54% of young people aged 12-18 who completed a nationwide Coronavirus survey are worried about falling behind with their school work.
Wales’ children and young people have been asked for their thoughts and feelings during the coronavirus pandemic.
The survey found that, while many children have enjoyed aspects of lockdown – such as spending time with family and taking daily exercise – they miss their friends, are worried about their relatives contracting the virus, and falling behind in their learning.
23,719 children and young people in Wales aged between 3 and 18 completed the survey. Their views were collected through a survey by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, the Welsh Government, the Welsh Youth Parliament, and Children in Wales. The survey is a UK first and an approach endorsed by UNICEF as an example to be followed by countries across the globe.
While the majority of children and young people in Wales (84%) who responded said they felt safe during the pandemic, one area of concern was missing out on their education while at home. 54% of 12-18 year olds said they were worried about falling behind with their school work. Only 11% of this age group who took part in the survey said they did not feel worried about their education. Just under half (48%) said they did not feel motivated to do their work at home, and over a quarter (27%) said they didn’t understand the work they were sent, including some with additional learning needs.
The Children’s Commissioner for Wales said that many children and young people who completed the survey wanted more face-to-face online contact with teachers to help them manage.
In younger age groups, 75% of Year 6 children wanted the chance to visit their secondary school before starting in September, with 76% saying they wanted a chance to say goodbye to their primary school before moving to secondary schools.
Welsh Government said that the survey results helped inform its decision to prepare schools in Wales to provide all children with the opportunity to ‘Check in, Catch up, Prepare for summer and September’.
Last week, Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced that all schools in Wales will start the next phase on 29 June. Each school will take a phased approach, with year groups split into much smaller classes, providing secured dedicated time with teachers and classmates. This will allow children to have time in classroom, speaking face-to-face with their teacher, to help their online learning at home.
Sally Holland, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales said:
“Clearly this has been a really difficult time for children and families all over the country. We’ve consistently heard adults’ views on the issues stemming from the pandemic, but until now children’s views have been notably absent.
“As the Government moves on to the next phase for schools, it’s really important that children and young people’s schoolwork-related anxieties are eased. Many who completed the survey wanted more online, face-to-face teaching.
“There’s been a huge effort from the education profession in re-purposing schools, making emergency childcare provision and keeping in contact with children. Teachers have also shown real courage in working in hubs through this crisis. But it’s clear that many children and young people do want more support with their learning at home.
“Some schools have been trying out the range of tools that Hwb offers to keep their school community in contact through video-calls and online group learning activities. This changes the way children learn at home and means that children and young people get some social interaction and feedback from a teacher, both of which are vital parts of learning.
“It can also mean that children can receive info verbally rather than just through written text, which can really help many children, including those with Additional Learning Needs.”
Ffion-Hâf Davies, Member of the Welsh Youth Parliament for Gower, added:
“This survey has been so important for young people in Wales, as they’ve had an opportunity to have their say during such an unprecedented time. As it’s the only one of its kind in the UK, it’s highlighted the commitment here in Wales to children’s right, although some of the figures, such as the number of young people worried about missing out on their education, is a matter of concern. With the news that young people can return to schools at the end of the month, the results of this survey will be an important element to ensure their voices are heard and considered, and will be a reminder that young people will be affected by the pandemic for years to come.”
Sian, who is 17 and from Llangollen said:
“My online learning has been very up and down really. Some weeks I have lots of assignments and some weeks none! Personally I find having the assignments motivating, and I like feeling like I am furthering my education. On the flip side, I am enjoying being able to read more widely when I don’t have the assignments, because I never usually have the time to do so!
“I’ve found not having face-to-face learning really difficult, and it’s certainly having an effect on my motivation. I like being able to ask questions in class and interact with my friends about what we’re learning. It’s difficult to feel that you’re doing the work completely alone, with no other perspectives to develop and challenge my own views!”
Saiba, a 17-year-old from Cardiff said:
“Personally I have been doing online learning for my A-Level work and I think although we do have structure to the day, like many other people my age, not having a proper routine is a struggle!
“This definitely contributes to the lack of motivation as sitting in the same spot whilst doing work become tedious and lonely in a sense.”
Steffan, who is 14 and from Ceredigion said:
“I’ve been learning online through this period. I can do the work but I find it difficult to speak to teachers if there’s a problem. Less face-to-face teaching is hard, but it’s possible to keep going. It’s also an advantage because no other children can disrupt the lesson. My school has become more organised than they were at the start.”
David, a 14-year-old from Swansea said:
“I receive work online, although there’s no consistency as far as how, where, and how often I receive it. Some departments use Google Classrooms, some use Microsoft Teams, and some email. Some teachers send work when we would have a normal lesson (according to the timetable), whereas others send work weekly or fortnightly to complete by a Friday to be marked by a Monday – this is my favourite way because it gives me the chance to control my own time. It’s hard sometimes when you haven’t got a teacher to explain the work face-to-face, but I understand that the period is hard for everyone and people are working in the best way they can. On a positive note, the period has enabled me to be more creative and to create work that I wouldn’t have created if I was in school.”
The Commissioner also said that many children had enjoyed aspects of lockdown.
“Through this survey we have been able hear how many children and young people desperately miss their friends, are anxious about relatives dying from the virus and are worried about their learning, but many have found unexpected pleasures in the dramatic changes to their routines.
“There are many difficult policy decisions to make in relation to Coronavirus, but these results will help the Government to take stock of all of the issues that are important to children as we move on through this situation.”
Deputy Minister for Health & Social Services, Julie Morgan, said:
“All our lives have been completely changed by the coronavirus pandemic, this is also true for our children and young people. It is vitally important we hear their thoughts and concerns so they can directly influence Government policy.
“This survey, which has been endorsed by UNICEF as a good model for countries across the globe to follow, has been promoted through their network and has helped shape the Welsh Government’s decisions on bringing more children back into schools from 29 June.
“The majority of children said they were worried about missing out on their education. We have listened to those views and we have acted on them.
“I am glad that most of you have said you feel safe, however I know it can be difficult to tell someone if you are worried. There are people who can help you – if you need to talk to someone you can call Childline for free on 08001111 or the MEIC helpline on 08088023456.
“I’d like to thank every one of you who took part in the survey.”
More online options
Comments included in the survey showed that children across Wales want more interactive sessions with teachers and a range of ways to learn online.
One 13-year-old girl from central south Wales said:
“I’d like to see more support from teachers to do lessons through platforms like zoom, to keep my education going instead of just setting work.”
And an 11 year old girl from north Wales said she would like,
‘A video or phone call from my teacher. I miss them.’
Barriers to learning
The survey found that specific challenges affecting groups of children and young people can relate to accessing electronic devices, and pressures at home.
One respondent, a 16-year-old girl from mid Wales said:
“It’s very stressful having to teach yourself and I don’t have access to a laptop or good wifi at home which is a real struggle as an A level student.”
A 17-year-old girl from south east Wales said it was difficult to manage with only one device:
“Home Learning is difficult when your parents are essential workers and/or don’t speak English very well. I need to take care of my little sister all day and explain the worksheets her teachers have sent to her and it’s difficult to do all this while sharing one device for all of us.”
Children with additional learning needs also raised specific challenges.
A 12-year-old boy with dyslexia from west Wales said:
“I am finding the school work really difficult to do as I am dyslexic and it all come in written text, which I find hard to read.”
A 12 year old girl from north Wales said:
“I have ASD and I like routine my school day is structured and I don’t like being off school -they help me with my learning”
The survey found that many children and young people had positive experiences of the crisis.
Some expressed relief from previous social and health pressures such as acting as a carer to other family members, mental health difficulties and bullying.
For others there has been a real pleasure in learning new skills and enjoying the outdoors in gardens and during daily exercise.
Many children commented that they had enjoyed spending more time with their families.
Sally Holland said:
“This unexpected intense period of several months at home, with so many parents either furloughed or working at home, has undoubtedly brought tensions and pressures to some families.
“However, very many of the children responding to our survey reflected on the pleasures of the break in usual busy routines, with families playing, eating, exercising and learning together much more than usual.
“This should give us cause to reflect on how we currently organise children’s and adults’ lives. More flexible working and reducing commuting through more home working could result in increased time for families to spend together.”
Advisory Panel Members have their say
Members of the Commissioner’s Young People’s Advisory Panel also shared their views on their experiences of lockdown.
Jac, Vice Chair of the South Wales Young People’s Advisory Panel said,
“As a sixth former who was in my last year, I abruptly graduated. I have not completed my courses and only hear from the school every two weeks when they just check how I am doing. I feel as if I have been completely stranded, I have had almost 3 months off and have another 3 before I start University. I have no idea what I should be doing in the mean time and neither the Uni I hope to attend or my school have suggested anything.”
Syd, age 17 said,
“Now, without the physical presence of a classroom and teacher to keep me on task, I have struggled even more to keep up with my A Level studies. The online lessons i do have are nowhere near as frequent as real life classes, which means I am, understandably as a year 12 student, expected to fill in the gaps myself.”
Derwen, also 17,
“I found home learning quite familiar as I was home educated until I was 16. I had a lot of contact and support from my tutors, as well as a lot of support from my Mum. My tutors helped me achieve my goals for the year, as well as helping me if I had any issues outside of the work. My Mum really helped me to get motivated and prepare a workspace so that I could cope well. I don’t think I would have achieved my goals without the support of my tutors and my Mum. I feel I have been able to cope with learning in lockdown, but It definitely has not been without its challenges”
Sam, age 14, said he’s engaging well with the work on line however he is disappointed that he is not able to start his chosen GCSE topics as he was eager to learn things he is interested in and that are personal to him. He’s also disappointed that he wasn’t able to sit his Welsh GCSE in year nine in May as arranged. Sitting this GCSE two years early was something he was incredibly proud of and had predicted A or B grade.