Headteachers bemoan pupils’ lost skills during lockdown

Waltham Forest headteachers say children have “lost the skill of using a pen” and “forgotten how to be kind to each other” during lockdown.

Last month, Waltham Forest Council published a report on how schools are coping with “lost” learning due to COVID-19, based on interviews with 49 of the borough’s headteachers.

It revealed some primary students returned to school “two to three months behind where they ought to be” and that some now struggle to write more than two sentences without their hands shaking.

One primary school headteacher said the school had seen “a massive drop in writing ability” and that some children “had reverted to writing in capital letters”.

Secondary schools also reported students struggling “to read challenging texts” or with “using a pen competently”, while a minority had seen an increase in behavioural problems such as fights.

At one secondary school – used as a case study but not named – the headteacher reported there were 300 more behavioural incidents than in the previous year, and a rise in pupils being excluded.

They explained students aged 11 to 14 were “cooped up in the same classrooms all day” leading to an “atmosphere akin to the Big Brother house at times” – although they were hopeful things would return to normal by September.

At the same time, the school was struggling with low staff morale – particularly as financial difficulties were forcing them to restructure – and the “sense that the school’s authority has been diminished in the eyes of students and parents”.

Financial pressure was widespread across the borough, with both primary and secondary schools reporting the extra funding from the Department for Education was not enough to cover their increased costs.

The number of staff off ill or shielding, and thus the need to pay for cover staff, was a particular pressure, with one school reporting it cost them an extra £60,000 every month.

The headteacher of one secondary school said the pandemic had also resulted in an increase in teachers moving out of the area or to private schools, adding: “This has been a huge challenge and it feels like it is going on and on.”

The council’s report concluded the borough’s schools had “‘stepped up’ and responded well” to the pandemic and that “pupils are getting back on track”.

It read: “Schools were proud of the remote learning offer during the second lockdown and now have in place a back-up suite of programmes if needed in the future. 

“Help and advice with school finances is the biggest appeal from headteachers, who reflected on COVID and have changed practice for the better.”

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter