Portsmouth education leaders' concerns about the impact of lockdowns on children’s life chances

HEADTEACHERS and education leaders have warned of the potential damaging affect of lockdown on children’s future academic, social and employment success.

Saturday, 1st May 2021, 11:00 am
Lucy Whitehead with children and staff at the Rainbow Corner Day Nursery in Southsea. Picture: Sarah Standing (050719-2801)

With many nursery and infant school children having missed out on months of education and social interaction there’s a growing concern about the impact on their life chances.

Of particular concern is the detrimental impact social isolation has had on young children’s speech development which educationalist believe is fundamental to academic success.

A BBC report recently highlighted 76 per cent of primary schools had reported children starting school this academic year needed greater support with their language skills while 96 per cent said they were concerned about pupils’ speech development.

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Cheryl Hadland, managing director of Tops Day Nurseries, believes the closure of nurseries is behind the increase in the number of children starting school with language and speech difficulties.

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Headteacher at Portsdown Primary School in Cosham, Ash Vaghela, said: ‘It’s a concern and the situation has definitely affected some of our children who have struggled.

‘Ordinarily children and staff would be constantly interacting and schools being closed has really affected this and left children missing out on that social development.

‘All research shows that early years children really need that time learning, exploring and playing in an outdoor setting and this has not really been able to happen.’

Portsdown primary school headteacher Ash Vaghela with Year 1 pupils. Mr Vaghela is concerned about the impact of lockdowns on children's social and academic development.

Mr Vaghela believes good communication and language skills are imperative to future success.

He added: ‘It’s vital to have these core skills as a good communicator and reader. These are the two things which will improve a child’s life chances.’

To tackle the situation the school has implemented an intensive phonics programme with teaching assistants and dinner supervisors doing additional after-school reading sessions with children.

The impact of lockdown is also a concern for Portsmouth City Council's cabinet member for education Cllr Suzy Horton who said the issue of communication skills in early years education was already on the council’s radar.

Cllr Horton, a former primary school teacher, said: ‘We are obviously concerned about the impact of lockdown as we know schools and nurseries are the best place for children’s social and language development.

‘Obviously the impact on communication skills will have varied depending on each child’s experience and levels of interaction during the pandemic.

‘Having good language skills is vital in opening the door to a whole host of other skills. It provides the building blocks for success in life.

‘Even before the pandemic, language skills in early years was very much part of the focus of the Portsmouth Education Partnership.’

Educationalists believe one of the key reasons behind increased language concerns with children entering primary school is the closure and restrictions placed on nurseries which resulted in thousands of children not attending.

Rainbow Corner Day Nursery owner Lucy Whitehead said: ‘There’s no doubt lockdowns and closure of nurseries has had an impact. We are seeing a lot more children being referred for special educational needs due to problems with speech and language.

‘It has also had a big impact on children’s social and emotional side.’

It’s a sentiment shared by Tops Day Nurseries managing director Chery Hadland who added: ‘All evidence shows children develop their main language skills by the age of six and those children who’ve not been able to attend have missed out hugely.

‘Nursery is about learning through play and it’s absolutely essential to get these building blocks in place before children start primary school as without them there are no foundations.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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