Report details worsening of literacy skills due to Covid lockdowns and school closures
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
The reading and writing skills of children in the Vale of Glamorgan have regressed due to the pandemic, schools are reporting.
Some pupils in both primary and secondary schools have seen their literacy skills worsen due to lockdowns and closures, even impacting their speaking skills.
Social services in the Vale have also seen a huge rise in the number of children needing care because of the wide-ranging impacts of coronavirus.
Details of the impact on children of Covid-19 were revealed in a presentation to councillors on Vale of Glamorgan council’s learning and culture scrutiny committee, on January 13.
The presentation was given by the Central South Consortium (CSC), which helps to improve education in five council areas in south Wales. The CSC said schools across the Vale of Glamorgan have reported similar trends in how their pupils’ literacy skills have regressed.
Nearly all primary schools in the Vale reported that pupils haven’t experienced as much social interaction as usual, impacting their confidence in talking with others. In both primary and secondary schools, the oral fluency and social skills of pupils have reportedly regressed.
Cath Billington-Richards, from the CSC, said: “Pupils’ confidence in talking with each other has very much been impacted. It’s the turn-taking, the tolerance, being able to read non-verbal cues, these parts of communication that we’re seeing come to the fore due to school closures. We’re also seeing greater reluctance to speak among secondary students.
“Children’s vocabulary acquisition has been impacted. That means children don’t have the vocabulary and sentence patterns to communicate their emotions and their feelings, which is obviously impacting their social and emotional wellbeing, as well.”
The impact on reading skills has been more varied, with teachers reporting that the gap in pupils’ skills is now wider than before the pandemic, as confident readers continue to progress while struggling pupils have either regressed or made little progress. A few schools, however, said the pandemic had little impact on reading for their pupils.
Meanwhile, most schools reported that writing skills have been impacted. This is partly due to parents and carers feeling less able to support writing tasks as much as reading. Some younger pupils have also missed essential muscle development in their hands and arms to be able to write letters correctly, or even their ability to sit upright at a table to write.
Ms Billington-Richards said: “There’s quite a significant regression. That closure period had a huge impact. The evidence about writing says children need to be writing for a minimum of 15 minutes a day. It needs to be regular, guided practice. During the lockdown, they weren’t having that fluency and practising on a regular basis.”
In response to these challenges, schools in the Vale of Glamorgan are now strongly focusing on improving literacy, with increased opportunities to learn and practise reading and writing skills. The CSC is also providing training for schools on how to teach literacy skills.
Another pandemic-related issue is the increasing number of children in the Vale needing care. Rachel Evans, head of children and young people services, told the same scrutiny committee: “We have seen during the last nearly two years now significant increases in our numbers of children looked after, and more children in fostering and residential care.”
The increasing number of children needing care is adding significant pressure to the council’s budget, as placements can be very expensive — even exceeding £390,000 a year for children with complex needs, according to a recent cabinet report. This year, the social services department at the Vale council is forecast to overspend its budget by £1.2 million.
Reasons for how the pandemic has increased demand for care, according to the department’s annual placement review, include lockdown pressures on families, financial struggles, schools closing and the impact on behaviour and routine, restricted preventative services, deteriorating mental health of some parents, and rising levels of domestic abuse.
Staff in the department also saw their work impacted by the pandemic, including with court delays and a backlog of cases, longer working hours needed to respond to the increased demand, the impact on staff’s mental health, and less hands-on support while working remotely. Problems are expected to continue after Covid-19, including with delayed trauma.
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