What happens when millions of children stop going to school?

Lockdown effects on children in school

The Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent global lockdown has been a completely life-changing event for pretty much everyone on the planet. For some people, it has been impossibly sad. At the time of writing, the death toll in the UK is at over 41,000 people and it will only increase.

For some people, it has been an inconvenience or a frustration: it’s been harder to buy certain products, they’ve not seen their partner as much as they would usually. For some people it has been an opportunity: lockdown gave them a chance to learn something or to make something or to quit something. Every person’s experience in life and during this pandemic is personal, individual, original and complex, but there is one group of people in particular for whom the pandemic has been life-changing in a very specific way.

Across the entire world, children were taken out of an institution that not only teaches them in terms of academic knowledge, but also in terms of social skills, communication skills and personal independence and responsibility. The implication here is that there will be a consequence for the months of missed school, but only time will tell what that might be.

Chalkboard in school

My personal hope is that the consequence will be that we rethink the system of assessment in this country: this summer’s exam results have demonstrated how completely farcical the process of examination is, and that it’s a useless means for arbitrary labelling essentially… But then again, the government doesn’t exactly have a flawless track record for making sensible and logical decisions.

Another point of view that I have been mulling over is that on a very much single-minded and superficial level, these many children being taken out of school has actually been a brilliant opportunity for them to build relationships with their families, to learn to clean and cook and garden and to read for fun, watch films and be creative. However, we all know how rose-tinted that viewpoint is and for many many children, being locked down and taken out of an institution that is constructed from boundaries and routine was actually a hugely frightening and damaging experience.

Besides that, even if home life is safe and warm and cosy, many families relied on the benefits available at school: free school meals, books in libraries and childcare. The impact of missed school is not only educational, it’s emotional and nutritional and spiritual. Now that schools have been back for a few weeks, in many places classes are nearly back to normal.

Family cooking together

Sure, there is lots of mask-wearing and teachers can’t move around the classroom. Sure, in some schools whole year groups have been locked down due to confirmed Covid cases and children are kept in one classroom all day, not allowed to move through the corridors. But the general system of schooling is at work, and life is beginning to return to normal. GCSE texts are being dusted off, kids are being put in detention for having painted nails and wearing trainers at school and mysteriously, across the country, girls’ periods are syncing up to their timetables to coincidentally appear just in time to get out of P.E. lessons.

At this early point, it doesn’t seem like the kids have been impacted too badly academically by lockdown, especially since there have been such brilliantly thorough measures put in place by schools such as teams lessons and Zoom lessons and varied and diverse reading lists. GCSE and A-Level exam boards are altering their expectations to account for the loss of learning time, which will provide a more equable situation for the classes in school now.

And so my thoughts are that in terms of academic and intellectual progression, the children who had to leave school don’t seem to be impacted too severely- after all, they’re all in the same proverbial boat, and the world will have no choice but to adapt to their needs and abilities moving forward. Where they might find themselves having a trickier time is in terms of regaining lost confidence, and developing emotional and communicative resilience. On the other hand, everything might be absolutely fine: the world is a different place now, and the children of lockdown will run it one day.

All we can do now is live life to the best of our ability in a current and post covid world, and we will nationally, internationally, collectively, have to adapt to the challenges and changes that occur moving forward. Worrying about the kids who were taken out of school is useless because it’s already happened, and considering how little much of the British education system seems to set its pupils up for life in the future, the fact that swathes of British children have missed elements of the curriculum is not necessarily in and of itself a problem.

I hope that the pupils who got their results this summer and are moving on to the next thing now feel prepared for their futures, but then again, I know I wasn’t prepared for anything after my exams at school. What happens when millions of children are taken out of school is that they just have a different childhood than might have been planned for them, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.

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Leah Welch

Leah is Culture Editor @ No Majesty. Leah is a literature graduate from Bristol, likes include: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, My So Called Life, Goodfellas, and Ally McBeal.