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Stunted young minds, the hard lesson of the school shutdown


OFSTED reports that the Covid-19 lockdown of schools and nurseries caused children to regress. Some potty-trained infants, for example, have reverted to nappies and other young children have forgotten how to use a knife and fork.  

Amongst many primary and secondary school pupils, literacy and numeracy skills have gone backwards. Children’s mental health, too, has been suffering

A research project by the school assessment company No More Marking, involving Year 7 pupils (ages 11-12) suggests that the situation may be even worse than Ofsted is reporting.  

The company’s director of education, Daisy Christodoulou, concluded: ‘The results are quite stark. The mean score of the Year 7 pupils is almost exactly the same as the mean score from our most recent Year 5 assessment, held in November 2019. So, Year 7 pupils are 22 months behind where we would expect them to be.’ 

None of this should come as a surprise. It is, indeed, reassuring to know that, when open, most schools exert a positive influence on their pupils. Take schooling away and children suffer.  

This truth, which should be self-evident, exposes the self-seeking hypocrisy of teacher union leaders. It was their stance of political warmongering that made it easy for the Government to close schools in the first place. Mafia-style, a National Education Union boss even threatened to name and shame any headteachers that sought to keep their school open

Nor are threats and intimidation confined to headteachers. The Campaign for Real Education, of which I am chairman, has recently felt the need to remove certain contact information from its website in order to protect its committee members from intimidation. 

Lengthy, pro-school closure, teacher diatribes on the telephone have blamed the Campaign for sending children to their deaths! Barmy, yes, but some teacher ‘crazies’ are certainly out there, exerting a baleful influence on open debate and freedom of speech.   

Most teachers choose not to join a union, but the grip of union bosses and agitators has been at strangulation point for too long in our schools. It explains, in part, why British pupils still lag well behind those in the most successful education systems around the world, even if there has been some recent improvement.

Our pupils have long failed to keep up with those in the likes of Singapore, Estonia and China. The regression that has happened as a result of teacher unions getting their way and closing schools for several months has now brought our schooling and, hence, our economy, to ‘Situation Critical’.  

This is made clear in an article for the website: ‘Even before the pandemic we were not in great shape, with only one in four Britons of working age said to be functionally numerate. Half the population has low confidence in making decisions to do with money, according to research by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), and 50 per cent have problems understanding credit card repayments.  

‘It gets worse. In 2016, the UK was ranked joint bottom for adult financial literacy in a league table of 17 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development nations, putting it on a level with Albania, and was the only OECD country where the numeracy skills of 16 to 24-year-olds were lower than the over-55s. 

‘Every other country is becoming more numerate over time, yet our young people have fewer skills, and that’s super-relevant right now as younger people are bearing the brunt of the Covid crisis, says Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist.’ 

The current regression, then, is not new. Educational standards have been falling  for decades, even if our educational Blob claims the opposite. By closing schools at the behest of the teachers unions, the Government made catching up less likely then ever. It is now insisting that schools stay open. It has, perhaps, learnt from its error of judgement. ‘Too late’, is the plaintive message from this latest Ofsted report. 

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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