COVID-19 school closures are threatening children’s oral language skills: but whole-school based interventions could help.

Oral language skills are critical for learning, and they matter now more than ever

Lecturer in Psychology in Education, School of Education, University of Bristol

Capabilities such as vocabulary knowledge, narrative skills and active listening are foundational for young children’s learning. Developed both at home and in school, these capabilities are known as oral language. Oral language is essential for young children’s learning, in particularly their literacy development and their ability to access the curriculum.

Oral language skills have always mattered, but they matter now more than ever.

The Covid-19 pandemic has widened the already stubborn ‘language gap’, that is the difference between the language levels of children from poorer backgrounds vs their more affluent peers. Ofsted have raised concerns that children hit hardest are ‘regressing in basic skills and learning, including language, communication and oral fluency1. Recent research found that 92 per cent of teachers think school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic have contributed to a widening of the ‘word gap’ and that 94 per cent found it challenging to support pupils’ vocabulary development while teaching remotely during the first national lockdown2.

This suggests that the inequalities facing children in our school system are being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Pupils from poorer backgrounds have suffered the most and face a greater loss of learning as a result of school closures3.

The likely increase in the disadvantage gap highlights the importance of school-based, early language interventions. Support for oral language offers an important means by which we can address the injustices worsened by the pandemic.

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Learning loss: the National Tutoring Programme for England is a valuable step – but may not go far enough

Authors:
Simon Burgess, Professor of Economics, University of Bristol
Hans Sievertsen, Senior Lecturer in Economics, University of Bristol

UNESCO estimates that around 1.5 billion children were unable to attend school in the spring of 2020. Closed schools mean lost learning, lower skills and reduced life chances and wellbeing.

A strategy for closing this learning gap needs to be rapid, school-based rather than online, and provided in addition to regular school. Given the size of the learning gap, it requires significant investment. Most importantly, there must be evidence of its effectiveness.

The policy that best fits these criteria is small-group tutoring, based in schools. This is the focus of the UK government’s new flagship catch-up programme, available to state schools in England.

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All Party Parliamentary Groups – an effective route to policy impact

Written by Alexia MacDonald, PolicyBristol Associate Social Sciences and Law, Arts and Humanities.

Have you ever wondered who else might be interested in your research, other than your academic colleagues and students?!

The Register of All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) is an extensive list of groups consisting of parliamentarians who share interests, knowledge and expertise. APPGs cover a diverse range of subjects from artificial intelligence to wrestling, and from historic vehicles to youth employment – so there is probably at least one that overlaps with your research area.

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Webinar and film launch – Engaging with policymakers and the public to promote ethical drug policy

 

Launch of the film – Putting UK Drug Policy into Focus

And discussion with:

Professor David Nutt – Imperial College London
Ann Fordham – International Drug Policy Consortium
Dr Magdalena Harris – London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Neil Woods – Law Enforcement Action Partnership
Dr Nuno Capaz – Lisbon Dissuasion Commission
Dr Prun Bijral – Change Grow Live

Followed by a Q&A

Chaired by Dr Adam Holland and Dr Emily Crick (University of Bristol)

5th November 2020
15:00 – 16:30 GMT
(16:00 – 17:30 CET)

Register for the free webinar here, along with the other online events of the European Harm Reduction conference

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The critical role of schools in protecting vulnerable children: why schools and social workers need immediate support to respond to the effects of lockdown

Dr Victoria Sharley
Lecturer in Social Work with Children and Families

With the majority of children returning to schools this week, referrals to Children’s Services are expected to substantially rise. As Peter Walker reported in the Guardian, schools will play ‘a pivotal role in spotting neglect and abuse’.

After nearly six months away from the classroom, children who would have previously been identified as needing help and support have been invisible to staff in schools.  According to the Department for Education, the number of referrals received by Children’s Services since schools closed due to the Covid19 outbreak, has seen a dramatic reduction of 18% (compared to the last three years).

The NSPCC states that schools are vital partners in the safeguarding and protection of our children. Staff in schools have the opportunity to observe children in a range of settings, inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers and other school staff can monitor children’s behaviour daily, over an extended period of schooling, whilst observing their interactions with peers and members of their families. They are uniquely positioned to detect concerns at an early point and share information which ensures children receive the support they need at the right time.

It is therefore essential that school staff are fully supported to recognise children who are in need of additional support, and be ready to respond to those who have been living with abuse or neglect, and are in need of protection.

A new policy report by Dr Vicky Sharley (University of Bristol) highlights findings from a recent study funded by Welsh Government through Health and Care Research Wales. The report looks at how school staff identify and respond to children they suspect are living with neglect (the most common reason for a child to be on a child protection plan in England). The report sets out key recommendations for best practice across schools and child protection services, and calls for policymakers to support schools and social workers in their unique but closely related roles within the safeguarding system.

The report also outlines a new approach for the development of effective inter-agency relationships to improve safeguarding outcomes. It is essential for children’s welfare that any concerns are raised at the earliest point possible. This requires more support for school staff and social workers to develop close working relationships and excellent communication channels. Recommendations are particularly pertinent at a time when children are returning to the classroom, having been ‘hidden’ from services for more than five months and referrals are expected to soar.

You can read the full report here. The key recommendations include the following:

  • Head Teachers should be supported to establish effective learning communities within their schools so staff develop context-specific knowledge and expertise on how to respond to child neglect effectively within a school setting.
  • Schools should recruit strategic staff who demonstrate commitment to developing expertise in child neglect to promote children’s wellbeing within the school setting.
  • School staff who know the local community well should have opportunities to provide insights into the lives of children who are suspected of living with neglect.
  • Social workers should routinely provide feedback to schools on the outcome of referrals made to child protection services and the rationale for their decision not to intervene.
  • Social workers should ensure that Child Protection Conferences are not planned during school holidays, and that information is shared with new schools where children are transitioning to secondary education.
  • Informal and formal opportunities should be made available to all staff to spend time in partner agencies to support development of knowledge and expertise about service provision.
  • The local authority’s threshold guidance document should be used as a tool for reflective discussion across services, to inform professional decision making and foster a ‘shared language’, so school staff can more effectively articulate concerns in their referrals.
  • The role of the School Social Worker responds to many interprofessional barriers between schools and child protection services, and should be established in all local authorities.

This study forms the basis of Dr Sharley’s ongoing research investigating interprofessional safeguarding practices across the United Kingdom. She would be happy to answer any questions about this study or discuss her ongoing and future work in this area.

The Brazilian Education Fracture and COVID-19: A Historical Perspective

André Hedlund, Chevening Alumnus, MSc in Psychology of Education from the School of Education at the University of Bristol

“Challenging. The Brazilian Educational System is Huge”

This is written on the website of Todos Pela Educação (All for Education), an NGO that provides information about the Brazilian educational scenario in order to help boost quality and access to basic education.

Brazil has a history of elitism and oppression. Education was used as an evangelisation tool by the Jesuits to convert Indigenous Brazilians in the early colonial years, between the 16th and the 19th centuries. Till this day, many schools are run by religious institutions. In the 19th century, the elite either had the luxury of private tutors or sent their children abroad, particularly Portugal, for their studies while slaves traded in from Africa were not allowed any type of education at all. Black people are still marginalised as a consequence of structural racism.

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Coronavirus: have we already missed the opportunity to build a better world?

Martin Parker Professor of Organisation Studies University of Bristol

Many people like to say that the coronavirus is teaching us a lesson, as if the pandemic were a kind of morality play that should lead to a change in our behaviour. It shows us that we can make big shifts quickly if we want to. That we can build back better. That social inequality is starkly revealed at times of crisis. That there is a “magic money tree”. The idea that crisis leads to change was also common during the financial crunch over a decade ago, but that didn’t produce any lasting transformations. So will post-COVID life be any different?

At the start of lockdown, in the middle of the anxiety and confusion, I started to notice that I was enjoying myself. I was cooking and gardening more; the air was cleaner, my city was quieter and I was spending more time with my partner. Lots of people started to write about the idea that there should be #NoGoingBack. It seemed that we had taken a deep collective breath, and then started to think about coronavirus as a stimulus to encourage us to think how we might address other big issues – climateinequalityracism and so on.

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Maximum cigarette pack size: a neglected aspect of tobacco control

Written by Anna Blackwell, Senior Research Associate

Follow Bristol Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (TARG) on twitter

The manufacturing or importing of packs of cigarettes with fewer than 20 cigarettes per pack was prohibited in the UK when the EU Tobacco Products Directive and standardised packaging legislation were fully implemented in May 2017. This change was aimed at reducing the affordability of cigarettes and thereby discouraging young people from smoking. This directive also required the removal of branding and established a standard shape and dark green colour for packaging, including pictorial health warnings, which prevented the use of packaging for promotion and reduced its appeal.

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The ties that bind: what the killing of George Floyd can tell us about ethnic inequalities in COVID-19 (and why we should listen)

 

This blog post was written by Dr Saffron Karlsen, (Senior Lecturer in Social Research, University of Bristol) 

On the last weekend of May 2020, much of the world watched with horror scenes of US urban disturbances in response to the death of George Floyd – another Black person killed in police custody. On the other side of the pond, many in the UK also awaited the release of an official report into the higher rates of infection and death of Black and other ethnic minority people from COVID-19.

Photo by Thomas de LUZE on Unsplash

Delays and disappointment

This Public Health England (PHE) report was heralded as an opportunity to finally provide answers to questions we’d had since evidence of these inequalities first emerged. The inquiry’s lead, Professor Kevin Fenton, described the pressing need for open discussion, to listen to the views of people from Black communities and those who worked with them to find out what was producing these inequalities.

Unfortunately, the report which was finally released is very far from fulfilling these ambitions. It does not provide a detailed investigation of the drivers of these ethnic inequalities and includes very little new information from which to make sense of these patterns.

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