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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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.

Repatriation of Dutch children in Syria now unlikely – but it shouldn’t be a political choice

Authors:
: Reader in Law, University of Bristol
Lecturer in Criminology, Monash University
Post-Doctoral Researcher in Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and International Law, T.M.C. Asser Institute

Many thousands of children of foreign Islamic State fighters travelled with them to conflict areas such as Syria and Iraq, or were born there. Now these children and their families face considerable legal and logistical challenges. They are unable to access basic services, or return to their countries of origin, especially if an adult in the family has been deprived of citizenship.

With many countries refusing or delaying efforts to repatriate, these children are in a particularly precarious situation.

An ongoing Dutch case, brought on behalf of 23 women and 56 children by a team of lawyers, shines a probing light on these issues. The central question of whether or not the decision to repatriate is a political choice will be watched closely by other countries.

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What impact will COVID-19 have on drug markets and users?

Josh Torrance (PhD student and Assistant Teacher, School for Policy Studies)

Much of this research is based on personal emails and conversations with the police and other agencies. As such, not all of the facts presented are referenceable.

Covid-19 will present a major challenge to both drug users and drug treatment agencies over the coming months. There are 320,000 problematic drug users in the UK, many of whom have weaker immune systems than the general public – and therefore a diminished chance of recovery from the virus. People who inject drugs and street homeless communities are at particular risk; viral infections spread quickly through these populations. On the face of it, the pandemic might seem like a fantastic opportunity for problematic users to become drug-free, but the reality is much more complex.

A used needle left on grass.

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Baby box: child welfare experts say use of sleep boxes could potentially put infants’ lives at risk

Authors:
Debbie Watson, Professor in Child and Family Welfare, University of Bristol
Helen Ball, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab, Durham University
Jim Reid, Senior Lecturer, Department of Education and Community Studies, University of Huddersfield
Pete Blair, Professor of Epidemiology and Statistics, University of Bristol

The baby box in Finland is embedded as part of the maternity system. Kela

Having a baby can be expensive. So it’s maybe not surprising that many retailers around the world have cottoned on to the success of Finland’s baby boxes – a package aimed to set up new parents and their bundle of joy. The Finnish boxes include baby clothing, sleep items, hygiene products and a parenting guide –- as well as a “sleep space” for the baby.

Many retailers around the world are now offering similar boxes for expectant parents. Indeed, research conducted at the University of Tampere in Finland suggests there are variants in over 60 countries. This includes Scotland’s baby box scheme – with all newborn babies getting a free baby box from the Scottish government.

But as a group of child welfare experts, we believe imitations of the Finnish boxes could be placing babies at risk. This is because it has become common to believe that if babies sleep in these boxes, it will help protect them from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Unfortunately, the research does not back this up. Continue reading

Touchscreens can benefit toddlers – but it’s worth choosing your child’s apps wisely

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Elena Hoicka, University of Bristol

Young children learn through play. That’s why it’s the basis for early education in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and many other countries around the world.

But with more and more young children now spending a lot of time in front of screens, a big question for many parents is whether time spent on touchscreens is good or bad for a child’s play and development.

Data shows British three- and four-year-olds spend around four hours a day on screen time – including at least one hour on games. And one worry is that screen time leads to poor outcomes for children.

For instance, the more young children watch television, the less sleep they get. There are also moderately higher rates of obesity in young children who watch television on weekdays compared to those children who do not. So one argument is that if children have more screen time, this could also displace the time young children spend playing, and hence learning.

Time well spent?

But that said, some research shows touchscreens have direct benefits for play itself. A study that followed a group of six preschoolers in their homes – covering a total of 17 hours of video footage – found the children showed 15 different types of play when interacting with touchscreen apps. They communicated, explored, and imagined, among other types of play. This suggests using touchscreen apps is play itself.

The children in the study also used apps as the basis for traditional play – for instance, by acting out the Netflix children’s series Paw Patrol in the real world. Research has also shown how apps can benefit preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. A study following four children found after playing with an app that encouraged pretend play, three of these children increased how much they pretended to be characters when playing with actual toys. This suggests apps could be used to teach children how to play more generally.

Screen time can be time for learning, too.
Shutterstock

Experimental research also shows playing with apps can have positive benefits on learning. One study showed how a group of four- to six-year-olds played with the Tower of Hanoi task on a touchscreen app. This task involves figuring out how to move a stack of rings from one rod to another without ever putting a larger ring on a smaller ring. After children played the task on the touchscreen app, they were then able to solve the problem with a physical version of the task without any additional time needed. This shows how children can learn through play on a touchscreen app, and transfer that learning to the real world.

Another study found that when preschoolers were given maths and language apps they enjoyed engaging with, their scores on standardised maths and language tests improved. This shows that playing with engaging and fun apps can help children learn some of the fundamentals at school. Even two-year-olds can learn language through apps, with research finding young children learn new words through Skype, but not television.

Play and learning

It seems, then, the relationship between touchscreen apps and play is complex. On the one hand, perhaps playing with apps will displace traditional play, leading to lower levels of activity in young children. But on the other hand, based on the research to date, it seems playing with apps could actually encourage play and learning – provided the apps have appropriate content for this function.

That said, the research in this area is still limited, so our lab is now running studies to find out whether apps show benefits or limitations to children’s play. Anyone around the world with a one- to three-year-old can participate in our longitudinal online survey. And it is hoped that by collecting this data over time, we can not only see if there is a relationship between touchscreens and play, but we can also find out if touchscreen use predicts children’s play long term.

We are also running lab studies in Bristol, England, to see whether playing with touchscreen apps makes two- and three-year-olds more or less likely to play later on – and whether children can learn to play from apps. Parents can find more information and sign up here.

So, for any parents out there who are wondering how to handle screen time with their young children, based on the current research, I would say choose app content that looks like it will help your child play or learn, but be wary of letting your children play with apps for too long, particularly near bed time.


The author is keen to interview children’s app designers, daycare workers, and parents about apps and one- to three-year-olds. If you’re interested in being interviewed, email Elena Hoicka at elena.hoicka@bristol.ac.ukThe Conversation

Elena Hoicka, Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advice is a lifeline for people claiming benefits – but support services are under threat from cutbacks

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Michelle Farr, University of Bristol

Controversial changes to disability welfare benefits have left many ill and disabled people unable to access the support they need. In his speech to the Labour Party conference, the party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn, spoke of how benefit assessments had “created a ‘hostile environment’ for disabled people”. Continue reading

Mental health: depression and anxiety in young mothers is up by 50% in a generation

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Rebecca Pearson, University of Bristol

Back when it first started, 17% of young pregnant women in the Children of the 90s study reported symptoms severe enough to indicate clinical levels of depression. This figure was already worryingly high in the 1990s, but in their daughters’ generation it is even more common: 25% of the second generation of the study – women under the age of 24 who are becoming pregnant now – are reporting signs of depression and anxiety. Continue reading

Motivated to succeed? Attitudes to education among native and immigrant pupils in England

Perhaps the central policy question for those of us studying education is: how can we raise levels of attainment? For long, the focus was almost solely on cognitive skills, but a line of recent research has looked at the interaction between such skills and non-cognitive factors (also called psychological traits), motivations, and culture in generating higher student achievement. Continue reading

Finding a better way to identify children experiencing domestic violence

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Natalia Lewis, University of Bristol

Around one in five children in the UK have been exposed to domestic violence or abuse between their parents or caregivers. When adults are involved in an abusive relationship, their children bear the consequences. Continue reading