Coronavirus (Covid-19) is likely to have a huge long-term impact on children’s lives, leading to calls for the government to step up support.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has estimated that the education lost due to the virus could cost today’s children £40,000 in lifetime earnings.
This comes after repeated concerns disadvantaged children are increasingly being left behind.
This is incredibly bad. There's no equivalent to it in recent history. Probably not since WW2. And of course it will hit the most disadvantaged the hardest – I'd estimate based on early findings the difference between bottom and top decile will be a year or so of lost learning.
— Sam Freedman (@Samfr) January 31, 2021
And of course many young people leave the system at 18. I think there may some ways to help these cohorts – perhaps some kind of lifelong entitlement to education? But there will be irreparable loss.
— Sam Freedman (@Samfr) January 31, 2021
According to the IFS, children are likely to have missed more than 5% of their total time in school before the pandemic is over.
This adds up to affect their lifetime earnings, and the institute estimated this could amount to £350bn in lost earnings across all of the UK’s schoolchildren.
For disadvantaged children, studies estimate the disruption could widen the attainment gap between rich and poor children from anywhere between 11% and 75%.
Problems with remote learning
Since schools first closed in March 2020, the Department for Education (DfE) has come under scrutiny for its “perceived failures” in ensuring fair remote learning.
Many children, particularly those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged, did not have access to a device to learn on during the first lockdown. This led to fears that negative effects on learning would be disproportionately worse for poorer children.
The Canary recently reported that problems with accessing remote learning devices via the government scheme were ongoing into January, with some schools still not having enough devices to distribute to students.
As of 11 January, the DfE reported 702,226 devices had been delivered to schools since the start of the scheme.
Calls for government support
As well as the laptop scheme, the government has invested in a national tutoring programme, spending £350m to help children catch up on missed school.
However, the IFS argued in its current state, the scheme is “unlikely to be anything like enough” to close all the gaps. As a result, the institute called for action to “increase learning time”. Luke Sibieta, IFS research fellow, said:
The long-run costs of the pandemic will fall disproportionately on today’s children. Without significant remedial action, lost learning will translate into reduced productivity, lower incomes, lower tax revenues, higher inequality and potentially expensive social ills.
The lack of urgency or national debate on how to address this problem is deeply worrying. The necessary responses are likely to be complex, hard and expensive. But the risks of spending “too much” time or resources on this issue are far smaller than the risks of spending too little and letting lower skills and wider inequalities take root for generations to come.
James Turner, CEO of the Sutton Trust, said:
The IFS is absolutely right to call for substantially more education funding to address the major issues coming out of this crisis. But it is absolutely crucial that this is targeted towards disadvantaged pupils who have been the worst hit by the pandemic. We know the attainment gap will widen as a result of school closures, limiting social mobility chances for a generation of young people.
As a start, the pupil premium should be boosted this year to help schools catch up, through allocating an additional £400 to every low income student. And it should be a given that every youngster has access to a digital device and a good internet connection while classrooms are closed.
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