COVID-19 has hit exam years hardest - but students need not be a 'lost generation', study finds

·3-min read

GCSE and A-level students have been hardest hit by COVID-19, according to the UK's biggest study into the impacts on young people.

It found pupils due to sit exams this year were not engaged with their work, and have the lowest wellbeing scores.

But the report, by education group ImpactEd, also says they are not a "lost generation", if schools take action to help.

The study started when classrooms closed in the first lockdown.

It tracked 62,000 children for seven months, assessing their learning, attitudes and wellbeing.

One in four GCSE students said they could not get help from their families, and many struggle to settle into a work routine.

The results also showed disadvantaged pupils have been falling further behind their peers, with only 45% saying they understood their remote learning work, compared to 57% of their classmates.

One of the schools involved was Bohunt School in Worthing, West Sussex.

Among those taking part was Sami Liddawi, 16, who said he feels "trapped" by the isolation.

"It's quite lonely," he said. "I expected this year to go out because now I'm 16 and meet with my friends - go places, but (you) can't really do any of that now."

Riya Chlouk, 15, has suffered panic attacks and anxiety during the pandemic.

"There are a lot of times when I have felt very low. And obviously I'm a teenager, so in this stereotypical way, I just spend a lot of time in my bedroom so the fact that I did that it kind of almost didn't help," she said.

Director of education for the Bohunt Trust, Philip Avery, said once they had seen the students' responses, they identified issues quickly.

"Things started to emerge," he said. "Children that didn't have a routine were struggling more than others.

"(There were) those that didn't have a quiet place to work, those that weren't getting outside, those that weren't exercising."

Teachers made changes both at a school level, and also for individual students.

"We started to introduce things like literacy interventions," Mr Avery said. "Outdoor days. Days to try and get our students interacting more with each other, even if it was online. Get them outside, get them exercising. And then at an individual level, we had our pastoral teams making phone calls and home visits."

By the end of the summer, the school noticed that students' wellbeing scores had shot up.

This positive change is why those behind the study believe some of the problems facing pupils are fixable.

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Co-founder and managing director of ImpactEd, Owen Carter, said that by giving schools access to the data, they can adapt their approach to "limit or erase negative impacts" of lockdown and remote learning.

"We are already seeing schools using the data to target resources towards those groups of pupils in their schools who need different types of support," he said.

"We are now continuing this work as part of our new strategy for helping schools as they recover from, and move beyond, the pandemic."