Almost half of parents said their children’s social and emotional skills worsened during Covid, prompting warnings the pandemic’s impact on youngsters stretches beyond the classroom.
The finding is one of the results of a study run by the IFS and UCL’s institute of education, which also noted that reception-age pupils were among the worst-affected.
Children aged between four and seven were 10 percentage points more likely to have seen their social and emotional development worsen than 12- to 15-year-olds (52 per cent to 42 per cent).
The experts also concluded there was no evidence that youngsters from disadvantaged families fared worse – but they stressed that economic instability had a significant effect.
Covid uncertainty had huge impact
IFS researcher Andrew McKendrick, who was an author of the report into the findings, argued that the conclusions serve as a “reminder that economic uncertainty can have multi-generational impacts”.
“Children lived through many changes during these years: school closures, lack of contact with friends and family, and potentially devastating severe illness or death among loved ones.
“Our research shows that another important driver of children’s declining skills was the economic disruptions experienced by their parents, whether or not those disruptions led to a large income loss.”
In all, 47 per cent of the parents who took part in the study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, reported their child’s social and emotional skills had declined in the 12 months after the outbreak of Covid.
Calls for more children’s services cash after Covid
Meanwhile, just one in six saw their youngster’s development improve over the period.
UCL and the IFS said children whose families’ pre-Covid employment situation changed were “far more likely to” be negatively impacted. It was even said to have happened when parents hadn’t suffered a significant loss of earnings.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of school leaders’ union ASCL, said the research underlines the need for extra funding for children’s services.
“Combined with other factors such as the cost-of-living crisis, Covid has taken a real toll on pupils’ mental health and wellbeing.
More youngsters treated for eating disorders
“Schools are doing everything they can to support pupils with both their academic and emotional development but are doing so in the context of budget challenges and a lack of investment from the government in education recovery following the pandemic.”
This comes as analysis by the children’s commissioner for England shows the number of children and young people starting treatment for eating disorders has more than doubled in seven years.
About 11,800 had started seeing specialists in 2022-23, up from 5,240 in 2016-17.
Of those yet to be treated in the final quarter of the last financial year, 45 per cent had been waiting for more than 12 weeks. The figure has risen from 16 per cent since 2016-17.