The National Social Justice Committee (NSJC) have identified the need to mitigating the impact of school closures on disadvantaged students. The detrimental impact of school closures on children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds is a key social justice priority for 2021.
Children and young people have been out of school for a significant part of the last twelve months. The prospect of children being out of school for another month at least is likely to lead to a further loss of learning, poor mental health, and early school leaving. These issues will be difficult to remedy. They could potentially trap children in a cycle of poverty and lifelong disadvantage. SVP are concerned that insufficient attention has been paid to this issue. Without a voice, the needs of children living in poverty and experiencing disadvantage will be overlooked.
This has been a particularly difficult time for the families SVP support. Many of whom are living with the effects of poverty and marginalisation. As Members carried out their work in the community remotely, it became abundantly clear that many children and young people living in poverty were not able to continue their learning through home schooling. Despite the best efforts of their teachers and parents/carers. Many students are unable to keep up with their schoolwork. They do not have space or the right technology for online learning. For many households struggling on a low income, having a laptop and broadband is a luxury, not a necessity. Unfortunately, the additional grants for IT equipment provided by the Department of Education were insufficient as Conference have continued to step into the breech providing supports to help address the digital divide during the latest school closures.
The NSJC are particularly concerned for children living in homeless accommodation and direct provision where school is a respite from their cramped living conditions. Through our unique home visitation work, SVP Members regularly support families experiencing ‘hidden homelessness’, often living in overcrowded and unsuitable conditions. It is very challenging in such circumstances to study when there is no separate space away from the rest of the family. We have heard from Conferences who support many families with three or four children with a range or ages in one bedroom accommodation facing impossible odds in seeking to make educational progress outside the supports of normal school environment. Children and young people from the Traveller community and those in Direct Provision centres also experience similar difficulties.
Not all parents have the skills, time, or health to help children with distance learning, and despite their best efforts. Parents with literacy issues or those who are educationally disadvantage are struggling to support their children’s learning at home. For parents where English is not their first language remote learning in incredibly challenging. Our members report supporting families where children as young as twelve who have to act as language interpreters for their parents on serious social and housing request issues. The isolation, stress and strain placed on parents due to school closures, is also a significant concern.
The loss of peer supports and social interactions not only through school closures. But also the closure of youth clubs, sports clubs and other community resources is significant. For young people most at risk of disengagement, we are concerned about reports of some falling into criminality due to the loss of the school environment and other protective measures.
The long-term impact of school closures, and associated learning loss and poor mental health, on children and young people already struggling to play catch-up could be substantial unless preventative measures are put in place.
It is vital that the Department of Education put in place the resources required. To support disadvantaged children and young people whose educational, social, and emotional outcomes have been negatively impacted by school closures. And to prevent further educational disadvantage because of COVID-19 restrictions.