Children are emerging from the pandemic with strong American accents after prolonged periods in isolation

Tuesday 29th March 2022 7:00 am
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Herefordshire children are emerging from the pandemic with ”strong American accents” after spending prolonged periods in isolation.

Meanwhile their mental wellbeing in the wake of Covid, and the pressure on schools to cope with it, makes for “a bleak picture”.

This was the county’s service director for education, skills and learning Ceri Morgan’s message to Herefordshire Council’s children and young people scrutiny committee this week.

His interviews with school heads around the county had uncovered “spikes” within the school and pre-school population of particular concern, he said.

“We see problems with pre-school children, particularly between the ages of two and four – most of whose young lives have been during the pandemic, when they have not been able to interact with children of their own age,” he said.

“This is now apparent in their lack of readiness for pre-school settings, a speech and language delay, and emotionally challenging behaviour.”

Some are even attending nursery or school “with a strong American accent” due to their time watching TV and online rather than mixing with their peers, the schools survey found.

It also reported some children showing “a speech and language delay of around a year” and “increased numbers of children still in nappies, using dummies and bottles after it is age-appropriate”.

“They are quicker to tears and anger, and less comfortable with the routine rhythm of school life,” Mr Morgan said.

They then struggle with the more formal education in years 1 and 2 – and this can also be seen among those progressing from primary to secondary schooling, “who missed out on transition activities”, he said.

“And any child with GCSEs has had significant disruption to the end of their formal schooling, for multiple reasons.”

The attainment gap between disadvantaged children, who spent less time online during lockdown, and their peers, has also widened during the pandemic, Mr Morgan said.

He added: “There has been a spike in exclusions for very young children. And we have only one special school that deals with these issues, at Brookfield, which is now full, and which we could fill again.”

Meanwhile overall school attendance “is still volatile”. And while the Department for Education (DfE) is currently encouraging greater use of attendance officers to address this, “we no longer have any”, Mr Morgan said.

“The money to pay for them does not exist. The DfE will probably be unhelpful in that regard – they think they fund schools properly when we all know they don’t.”

Another “spike” has been among children who already had developmental issues, according to the council’s principal casework manager for children and disabilities teams Hilary Jones.

“Nearly a fifth of children with autism and other special educational needs now also have social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs,” she said.

Across the county, four per cent of children now need a special school and trained staff. And with limited council provision here, spending on independent school places has tripled in five years, mostly for those with SEMH and “autism with anxiety” needs, Ms Jones said.

These placements “are often quite far away, some not even in Herefordshire, so we also have an additional transport cost”, she added.

A further 15 per cent of children “need a higher level of support” within mainstream schools, which can claim up to £6,000 extra funding per pupil.

Meanwhile, wellbeing and emotional support teams (WESTs) are already assisting in all the county’s high schools, and in autumn will begin working with 20 of the county’s primary schools identified as being most in need, she said.

Committee member Coun Toni Fagan said the officers’ findings “make me feel like we are sitting on a time bomb”.

Coun Kath Hey, an ex-primary teacher, said: “Mental health support needs to be part of the culture of schools, and how we support that is really crucial.

“We need to build mental resilience in all children, particularly in early years.”

And Coun Jennie Hewitt, a former art teacher, said: “I would like to see more resource put into teacher wellbeing and resilience, because children are dependent on that.”

To which Ceri Morgan said: “Teacher burnout is a very real and growing issue, and I’d include school leadership teams in that.”

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