14/04/20

Education experts claim that the current coronavirus pandemic will widen the education gap in the UK, with children living in poverty being more likely to be directly affected.

School Principal Mariella Wilson says that although many families in the UK are determined as disadvantaged and eligible for free school meals, there is a “further 20%” of her school’s population who are not eligible, yet still very much “the working poor”.

Writing in an article for Al Jazeera, Ms. Wilson says: “Both of these groups constantly live on the edge of poverty. Their already fragile economic situation is easily tipped by an unexpected expense – a pair of new school shoes, an electricity bill or a broken washing machine.”

For more than one and a half million children in the UK at least, school is a place of safety, sanctuary and at least one meal a day.

Mariella WilsonPrincipal of Springwest Academy, West London

She goes on to say that these are the families that will be hardest hit by the current global pandemic, their situation now “exacerbated tenfold”.

Whilst the news brings reports daily of deaths, unequipped hospitals and exhausted frontline staff across the country, there is a further crisis of poverty and desperation currently gripping Great Britain, Ms. Wilson says.

The recent lockdown of the nation, which has included the closure of schools, has revealed huge inequity and inequality.

Currently, 1.3 million children in the UK are classed as disadvantaged – this is the number entitled to free school meals. Principal Wilson explains that these children are now like prisoners in their own homes – many living in small, cramped flats with little to no outside space.

For many of these 1.3 million children, along with the 20% beyond them not entitled to income support, home learning is not taking place in a quiet corner of a room with a desk, books and pens, and a helpful, well-educated adult on hand.

Many of these children also lack access to the electronic devices typically found in most modern homes, such as a tablet, personal computer and even the internet.

“I know from my own school that a child’s access is likely to be an allocated 60 to 90 minutes on a shared household laptop, personal computer or tablet,” Ms. Wilson says.

“In a number of families, their only access to an online classroom is via their mobile phone, which makes any completion of work and uploading it onto an online platform almost impossible.”

43% of Students doing Less than 1 Hour Learning Per Day

Data from TeacherTapp revealed that at the end of the first week of lockdown, 10% of students in the schools of the teachers using the app did not have access to either a device or the internet.

The same data set also revealed that teachers working in the most disadvantaged state schools felt that 43% of their students were doing less than an hour of learning a day, compared with only 43% of students working in more advantaged state schools (as reported by teachers).

“What is clear is that the learning and, therefore, the attainment gap – between those who are disadvantaged and those who are not – that has worried the profession and government for over a decade will grow exponentially,” Ms. Wilson says.

Academics who have looked at home/school effects on academic attainment by children often refer to the 1:9 ratio. This means that it is thought that home impact accounts for nine-tenths of the influence on a child’s development, habits and behaviour, while school only accounts for one-tenth.

But for those working in disadvantaged communities, Ms. Wilson explains, the reality is that the school effect can be a powerful one-tenth. If many already vulnerable children cannot attend school for the duration of lockdown, then that effect and long-lasting impact is lost.

If, for three months or more, the learning habits acquired within the structure and routine of a well-equipped school are pulled away, then without a doubt we will see a huge dip in the learning gap.

“The question for us now is how will we plug that gap? The schooling we will need in place for September will need to look and feel very different,” says Principal Wilson.

“The fight against coronavirus has shown us that schools are much more than just education providers. For more than one and a half million children in the UK at least, school is a place of safety, sanctuary and at least one meal a day.

“As millions are now being spent on mitigating against the biggest recession the UK has ever faced, there is also a need to design and properly invest in an integrated social care, health and education system fit for our post-pandemic world.”