September 26, 2022

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Many parents are alarmed over gaps in their children’s learning due to Covid-related disruption and worry they will lag behind in the new academic year, a new survey shows.

As schools prepare to reopen in the coming weeks, a survey of 1,100 parents by Barnardos shows many parents are worried about their children’s academic performance and feel that not enough additional support has been provided to help children catch up.

Schools closed twice for extended periods during the height of the Covid pandemic and many teachers reported higher levels of absenteeism and lower levels of engagement in the last academic year.

The survey found that only 55 per cent of primary and 44 per cent of secondary school parents said their children had caught up educationally.

A majority of parents at both primary, 55 per cent, and secondary school, 65 per cent, disagreed that the Government had provided sufficient additional support to help children catch up.

One parent told the survey: “My child is behind on her reading due to missing school as a result of Covid. The support teacher that was allocated pre-Covid is no longer available so all responsibility is on me as the parent to teach her.”

Another commented: “I got both my boys report cards recently and was upset about the decline both boys have shown this year versus previous years … I’ve made contact with the school to find out what supports are available to them and I’m still waiting a reply.”

Stephen Moffatt, national policy manager with Barnardos, said worrying gaps in education and social development among children are evident across its services.

“The additional measures to help children catch up were minimal,” he said. “This was a huge proportion of children’s lives, which was marked by absenteeism, closed schools, school refusal and other issues. We won’t see the full repercussions of this for some time.”

Academic research indicates that the most vulnerable pupils — such as children from poorer backgrounds and with additional needs — have experienced the steepest learning losses.

Louise Tobin, principal of St Joseph’s Primary School in Tipperary, said teachers have been alarmed at gaps in learning among younger pupils, especially.

“There are significant delays in literacy and numeracy, which came up during our testing, but also in motor development; we’ve noticed it especially in junior infants up to first class,” she said. “Some teachers were shocked at the significant level of delay and gaps in learning.”

In addition to school closures between 2020 and 2021, many schools and pupils have struggled with absenteeism linked to Covid, she said.

Minister for Education Norma Foley has pointed to the introduction of a Covid-19 learning and support scheme during the last academic year as an example of the Government’s commitment to help children.

The €52 million investment provided extra teaching hours to allow schools to target children who needed it most with additional support.

The Deis scheme for schools for disadvantaged areas has also been expanded this year to include an additional 310 schools.

Opposition politicians, however, said many children have fallen through the cracks and more ambition is needed to help tackle learning loss.

Labour’s education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said: “I’m not surprised at the gaps emerging in the survey. We called for a much more ambitious programme of catch-up supports, but it fell on deaf ears.

“The UK, on a per student basis, has spent twice what we have supporting pupils. Yet the official in charge of that programme resigned because it fell short of what was needed.”

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