Covid sparks education crisis as pupils starting high school with reading age of six

Many secondary school teachers are giving new pupils in their Year 7 age groups additional attention, as their reading level has not advanced past that expected of six-year-old children. Schools have faced consistent disruption throughout the pandemic, seeing changes to virtual teaching, wholesale closures, reduced group sizes when in classrooms and chronic staff shortages.

Experts and campaigners attribute the regression in educational levels partly due to coronavirus over the last two years, but also to how technology is consumed by young people.

They point to the skyrocketing screen time children are exposed to each day, and the distraction this has proved from traditional educational activities, such as reading books.

Secondary school teachers are now receiving instruction on how to deliver literacy lessons children are meant to receive during their initial primary years, the Sunday Times reported.

The president of the Association of School and College Leaders, Pepe Di’lasio, described how the traditional routines of reading at these crucial ages have been disrupted.

Mr Di’lasio, who is headteacher at a secondary school in Yorkshire where numerous children have a reading age of six or seven, said: “This is a nationwide issue.

“The habits of reading are becoming a dying art.”

He added that, in his Rotherham school, teachers have urged pupils to download apps focusing on access to reading material.

He said: “We are trying to encourage reading by stealth.”

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“For the children who were most behind to begin with, we are facing a real crisis.”

Former chief inspector of Education, Sir Michael Wilshaw, held a similar opinion on the severity of the “huge crisis” he sees facing the education system.

He said: “The Government has got to bring in clear programmes to help children catch up with their reading.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in March 2021 that he understood children at crucial educational and developmental stages in their lives needed “repaying” for the damage the pandemic had inflicted on their development.

He said in a Downing Street briefing that 90,000 children would start school in September 2021 unable to reach the expected level of literacy because of COVID-19 disruption.

The PM said he hoped to “make up the gap” with additional teaching time, a £1.7bn fund and summer schools, adding: “It’s the loss of learning for so many children and young people that’s the thing we’ve got to focus on now as a society.

“And that I think it is an opportunity make amends.”

The Department for Education said it was implementing an “ambitious recovery plan” to tackle the literacy loss, and that it was committed to pulling up literacy rates to their expected levels.

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