The Issues Facing Post-Pandemic Early Years Pupils

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Lynn How

Lynn is the Editor at Teacher Toolkit. With 20 years of primary teaching and SLT experience, she has been an Assistant Head, Lead Mentor for ITT and SENCO. She loves to write and also has her own SEMH and staff mental health blog: Lynn...
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What are the issues facing post-pandemic early years pupils, and how can teachers help?

There has been recognition across the world that pupils have had their wellbeing significantly impacted as a result of the pandemic.

Considering the impact…

Children in their earliest years of development (Early Years Foundation Stage) have been particularly affected. Although, the full impact of these adverse childhood experiences (ACE), may not manifest themselves until the pupil is older. With the new generation of school starters, practitioners need to be mindful of potential extra needs.

Findings from previous studies:

Firstly, BERA has highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health and learning of young children:

  1. The key person’s role was extensively disrupted, which an impact on the child’s emotional security. As a result of this, the children of key workers had a higher resilience than children who were returning.
  2. Children with SEND were particularly affected. The pandemic has presented many barriers to being able to carry out the SEND coordinator role effectively, with many difficulties being encountered when trying to liaise with professionals beyond the setting.
  3. Parents and practitioners made assumptions about children’s resilience that did not always reflect an awareness of a traumatic event’s emotional and psychological impact on young children.

Secondly, Early years recovery from Ofsted:

  1. Many early years providers had prioritised the prime areas of learning (communication and language; personal, social and emotional development (PSED); and physical development), as this is where they had identified that children have been affected the most.
  2. Children aged 2 (in Dec 2021) have spent almost 80% of their lives in the pandemic, and those aged 18 months have spent 100% of their lives in it. Providers noticed that this cohort of children showed different characteristics from those who started attending their settings before the pandemic. They attributed this to limited opportunities for children to socialise during the pandemic.
  3. Many providers said that they were focusing on developing children’s language and communication skills, as some children had limited vocabulary or were not talking confidently.
  4. Some providers reported that children had fallen behind with some independent skills, such as feeding themselves and toilet training. Children who were not secure with some independent skills before the pandemic needed extra help to get back on track.

5 considerations for school settings …

Drawing on the research cited above, here are some considerations for new starters, current EYFS and beyond.

  1. An emphasis on speech and language: This is the foundation for learning and with limited socialisation, children in many instances have not had the exposure to language that they would have in school. An in-school screening programme for new starters, plus a trained speech and language learning support assistant (LSA) would be invaluable to support children. Learn more about ‘typical’ ages and stages of development.
  2. Independent skills: children have as a cohort, lost some independence and have at times regressed in areas such as potty training. I was rather exasperated when my son regressed by six months – I didn’t understand why. He had regular toilet accidents for no apparent reason at the start of the pandemic. Many other children had the same issue. Upon further investigation, I found it was likely to result from underlying stress caused by sudden routine changes. As a school, be prepared for more children who may not be toilet trained.
  3. Socialisation and sharing: plan more opportunities for games that involve interaction and sharing. Developing these skills effectively with children outside of the ‘family bubble’ was hindered throughout the pandemic.
  4. SEND: Get children on the waiting list as soon as possible for suspected special educational needs and disability (SEND) issues. There is a massive backlog nationally, so the ‘wait and see’ approach that applies in some EYFS settings needs amending. It’s better to get parents ‘on board’ early and get an appointment to ‘rule it out,’ instead of waiting until a child is older.
  5. Beyond EYFS: Remember, year one and two children have missed significant play opportunities. This is the perfect time for year ones to have extra play-based learning; many will still need it. Also, consider who else would benefit.

With an emphasis on the basics to match the needs of individual children in EYFS and beyond, nurseries and schools must now set up firm foundations to allow these children to thrive.


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