The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly affected all aspects of society, and education has been no exception. Between school closures, exam cancellations and mass testing programs, pupils, their families, and those teaching them, have experienced a particularly tumultuous times in the past couple of years.
At the start of the pandemic there were several high-profile news articles about potential mental health issues for students and their teachers, a concern about a widening of the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils due to less access to online learning, as well as many questions about the practicalities of home learning and the childcare needs of families.
It was clear that in these complex and fast-changing times, understanding the on-going experiences and views of pupils, parents, teachers and school leaders would be vital to a) understand the true impact of the pandemic and b) enable schools and pupils to be best supported.
To capture their experiences and views, The Department for Education (DfE) commissioned IFF Research to set up the coronavirus (COVID-19) Parent and Pupil Panel (PPP) and the School Snapshot Panel (SSP). These two panels were designed to gather high-quality, rapid and robust research which DfE could use to create evidence-based policies to help support schools and pupils during the pandemic, and begin educational recovery.
Between August 2020 and July 2021, a total of 17 online surveys were sent to pupils, parents and carers, senior leaders and classroom teachers in state-funded primary and secondary schools in England.
What did we find out?
The surveys captured insights on a wide range of important issues but capturing pupils’ mental health and wellbeing was a particular priority.
For example, we saw a stark decrease in pupils’ happiness during the third national lockdown, when schools were not open to the majority of pupils.
We also learnt how the majority of pupils who were feeling anxious were feeling uncertain about their grades, school work or the future. A much smaller proportion were anxious because of Covid specific factors.
What has the impact been for DfE?
This research enabled DfE to gather evidence quickly, respond effectively to the ever-changing circumstances and priorities the pandemic created, and to assess how views and experiences were changing over time.
The research has already helped inform a number of initiatives including:
- The development of a new Covid Workforce Fund to help with school/college staff absences
- The department’s education recovery packages and guidance
- The government’s changes to COVID guidance in schools
It has also prompted the department to make panel-based research its default research tool.