COVID-19 Curbs Hampered Young Children’s Social and Language Skills: UK Report

COVID-19 Curbs Hampered Young Children’s Social and Language Skills: UK Report
Children wear masks in a school in a file image. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Alexander Zhang

COVID-19 restrictions have delayed the development of young children’s social and language skills, leaving some babies struggling to understand basic facial expressions, a new UK report has warned.

Amanda Spielman, chief inspector at Britain’s education watchdog Ofsted, said the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic lockdowns have created “some lingering challenges” to education.

She said she is “particularly worried about younger children’s development, which, if left unaddressed, could potentially cause problems for primary schools down the line.”

The latest Ofsted report published on April 4 found that the lockdowns have “continued to affect young children’s communication and language development, with many providers noticing delays in speech and language.”

It said “babies have struggled to respond to basic facial expressions” as a result of reduced social interaction under the COVID-19 restrictions.

Several education providers said that wearing masks is continuing to have a negative impact on young children’s language and communication skills.

“Children turning two years old will have been surrounded by adults wearing masks for their whole lives and have therefore been unable to see lip movements or mouth shapes as regularly,” the Ofsted briefing said.

“Some providers have reported that delays to children’s speech and language development have led to them not socialising with other children as readily as they would have expected previously,” it added.

Children have also missed out on having conversations or hearing stories, with one provider saying young children seem to have spent more time on screens and have started to use accents and voices from programmes they have watched.

The report showed more delays in babies’ development, with children not learning how to crawl or walk as quickly as they usually would.

In schools, education inspectors found that lockdown restrictions are continuing to affect pupils’ knowledge.

Headteachers have raised particular concerns about children in reception year, who they said had delayed speech and language development.

For older secondary pupils in Year 11 and 13, inspectors found it was a challenge for teachers to help pupils catch up on content they had missed while simultaneously preparing them for exams.

James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It is no surprise that the pandemic has had a major impact on some children. We know that repeated lockdowns have meant that most younger children have had reduced social interaction and it is perhaps unsurprising that this has affected their emotional development, social and speech and language skills.”

PA Media contributed to this report.