How are pupils coping during lockdown?
27th May 2020 by Timo Hannay [link]
The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown is widely regarded as affecting not only children's education, but also their happiness and mental wellbeing. Yet there's little objective information on the situation. Following our 2019 analysis of pupil wellbeing, we are delighted to once again collaborate with EduKit, this time to monitor in real time how pupils are coping with lockdown, self-isolation and homeschooling.
EduKit have established a short, free, anonymous survey for schools to gauge the wellbeing and experiences of their pupils. Based on just under 9,000 responses received from across England between 27th April and 25th May, we find:
- Feelings of loneliness are widespread, especially among older pupils. Up to Year 8, around a third of respondents report feeling lonely "a bit" or "very often", but for Years 12 and 13 this proportion was more than half, with 20-25% saying that they "very often" feel lonely. Based on these responses, we estimate that 800,000-900,000 pupils at state schools in England may be feeling lonely "very often".
- Secondary pupils are much more likely to say that their school has not provided sufficient wellbeing and mental-health support, with around 20% of respondents in Years 9-12 saying "not really" or "not at all". This compares to around 30% who say that they get plenty of support.
- About 70% of all year groups report feeling bored "a bit" or "very often". Among secondary school pupils, over 30% report feeling bored "very often".
- Daily exercise and healthy eating also decline with age. Among pupils in Years 10-12, 40% or more reported taking less than 30 minutes exercise a day.
- Overall life satisfaction appears to have declined compared to surveys conducted before the lockdown, especially among boys.
- For secondary pupils, overall life satisfaction correlates most strongly with (absence of) loneliness. Among primary pupils, feeling comfortable at home was the most significant factor.
This is an ongoing research project. Schools interested in participating can sign up here.
Regions and response rates
We analysed 8,738 responses from pupils at 53 different schools across England, representing all year groups from 1 to 13. Because the sample was self-selected, it is important to be aware of underlying biases. At the school level, there were 21 primary schools and 31 secondary schools, plus one all-through school, but because secondary schools are so much bigger, 82% of the responses came from that phase. In addition, three regions – the East of England (17 schools), London (12 schools) and the North West (10 schools) – were over-represented, while Yorkshire and The Humber was more or less fairly represented (6 schools) and other regions were under-represented (1-3 schools each).
At the pupil level, response rates averaged just over 26% of the school population across the whole sample, but varied by pupil type, as shown in Figure 1. For example, when viewed by gender, girls (30%) were considerably more likely to respond than boys (21%). There was little overall difference by phase, but some large difference by year group, with very low rates for infant pupils (Years 1 and 2) and for GCSE and A-level cohorts (Years 11 and 13). Of course, for younger pupils it is also more likely that answers were provided on their behalf by parents or carers.
Although we did not ask for respondents' FSM (free school meals) status, we can examine response rates by the proportions of FSM pupils in each school. These show much lower response rates in schools with high proportions of FSM pupils (15% or more) than in those with low proportions (below 9%). It is therefore reasonable to assume that poorer pupils are under-represented in the sample.
(Use the menu below to view response rates by these different pupil groups. Hover over the columns to see data values and sample sizes.)
Figure 1: Response rates by pupil type
Life's ups and downs
Among other questions, the survey asks respondents to report their life satisfaction on a scale of 0 (worst) to 10 (best)1. Figure 2 shows how this varies by age for all pupils (grey line), boys (blue) and girls (red). Years 1, 2 and 13 have been omitted because the sample sizes for those groups were small.
The current survey shows mean life satisfaction declining with age, the score for girls falling more than that for boys during most of secondary school (Years 7 to 11). This is consistent with earlier research, including our own analysis of previous EduKit surveys. Using those earlier survey results as a baseline, it appears that average life satisfaction has declined during the lockdown (with an average change of -0.22 for each year group). This effect is larger for boys (-0.26) than for girls (-0.07). However, these surveys do not cover the same pupils and the 2020 survey currently has only 10-20% of the sample size of the earlier study, so this finding should be considered preliminary.
It is important to note that the differences in average score are much smaller than the variations seen within each pupil group. So knowing the age or gender of a particular pupil tells you next to nothing about their life satisfaction.
(Use the menu below to switch between 2020 Homeschool Survey results and earlier survey results. Click on the legend to turn different groups on or off. Hover over the graph to see corresponding data values and sample sizes.)
Figure 2: Average life satisfaction score (0-10) by year group and gender
The survey also included 13 further questions about more specific aspects of life under lockdown. While there were some variations by phase or gender, the clearest trends were by year group; these are shown in Figure 3.
Some questions show relatively little variation by age. For example, around 15-30% of respondents of all ages reported feeling unhappy or very unhappy about doing school work at home. Similar proportions said that they felt generally upset about the situation, while around 10-15% said that they lack sufficient personal space and about 5-10% of most year groups reported being uncomfortable at home. Around 70% of all year groups reported feeling bored "a bit" or "very often", though the latter category increases with age, rising from just over 15% in Years 1 and 2 to over 30% in Years 8-12.
Other questions showed even clearer trends by age. For example, most respondents said that they understand why they are not at school, but the proportions reporting uncertainty were lower for older pupils. Similarly, family involvement in school work drops rapidly between Years 2 and 9, and is particularly low for Years 12 and 13 (as you might expect). Similar, if less extreme, age differences can be seen for taking daily exercise and eating healthily.
Most worryingly, feelings of loneliness appear widespread, especially among older pupils. Up to Year 8, around a third of respondents reported feeling lonely "a bit" or "very often", but for Years 12 and 13 this proportion was more than half, with 20-25% saying that they "very often" felt lonely. If we combine these responses with the known cohort sizes of each year group, this suggests that around 800,000-900,000 pupils at state schools in England may be feeling lonely "very often". As outlined above, the sample in this survey is not fully representative of all pupils in England, but those feeling the most lonely seem at least as likely to be under-represented as over-represented, so such extrapolations are worth taking seriously.
Related to this, secondary pupils were much more likely to say that their school has not provided sufficient wellbeing and mental-health support, with around 20% of respondents in Years 9-12 saying "not really" or "not at all". This compares to around 30% who say that they get plenty of support.
Figure 3: Responses to questions by year group
Finally, some questions showed trends by age, but with clear exceptions for Years 11 and 13 – the groups for whom public exams such as GCSEs and A-levels have been cancelled. For example, when asked about time spent on school work, only about 5% of those in Years 10 and 12 said that this came to less than an hour a day, while the proportions for Years 11 and 13 were more like 40-55%. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, those same year groups report having plenty of time to relax, with over 60% of Year 11 respondents and 80% of those in Year 13 reporting having plenty of time. This compares to only around 25-30% of respondents in Years 10 and 12. Also recall that response rates for Years 11 and 13 were low, so it's quite possible that those answering the survey were more engaged with school matters than the average pupils in those year groups.
(Use the menu above Figure 3 to explore different questions. Click on the legend to turn different groups on or off. Hover over the graph to see corresponding data values and sample sizes.)
Correlates of happiness
We can also examine the relationship between these questions about pupils' experiences and feelings with their overall life satisfaction scores. These are shown in Figure 4. A score of 1.0 would indicate perfect correlation between answers to a given question and overall life satisfaction, while zero would indicate no correlation at all. (Answers to questions were scored in such a way that high values always corresponded to 'good' answers, so significant negative correlations were not seen.)
Across all pupils, loneliness and general feelings about being at home correlated most strongly, followed by other factors such as mental-health support, healthy food, personal space, relaxation time and absence of boredom. Time spent on school work was not a substantial factor.
For primary pupils, correlations were generally lower and tended to emphasise factors such as comfort at home and not feeling bored, while secondary pupils seemed to care much more about loneliness. There was relatively little difference between boys and girls, with the former placing a slightly higher emphasis on boredom and the latter on healthy eating.
Correlation, as they say, is not causation, so taken on their own these results don't demonstrate that loneliness is causing lower life satisfaction (or vice versa). But it is important to note that the relationship between these two indicators is not merely a result of older pupils tending to feel more lonely and also having lower average life satisfaction: even within each age group, reports of loneliness tended to correlate highly with life satisfaction, especially for older pupils.
(Use the menu below to view different pupil groups. Hover over the chart to see corresponding data values.)
Figure 4: Correlation of responses to questions with overall life satisfaction
To be continued...
The results presented here are an interim snapshot of responses received so far (up to and including 25th May 2020). We are continuing to gather data and add schools to the survey. If you are a school leader or teacher and would like to participate then please sign up here.
As well as allowing you to monitor feedback from your own pupils, this also enables you to benchmark them against the latest results across all schools. Although the analysis presented here focuses on schools in England, the survey is also available to those in other parts of the UK and around the world.
We plan to issue further analyses as the dataset grows and the lockdown situation evolves. In the meantime, we welcome your feedback: [email protected].
Hiring goes lower: An update on teacher recruitment
6th May 2020 by Timo Hannay [link]
- Following a rapid year-on-year decline during the second half of March, teacher recruitment among secondary schools in England remained unseasonably low throughout April. During the 7-week period from from Monday 16th March to Friday 1st May, about 3,000 fewer teacher advertisements were found on school websites than during the corresponding period in 2019, a fall of 38%.
- Surveys of teachers and school leaders indicate that this decline is due to a combination of (a) lower teacher turnover and (b) practical difficulties faced by schools trying to recruit during the lockdown. Both causes have potential implications for school staffing when the new academic year begins in September.
- This study is a collaboration between SchoolDash, Teacher Tapp and the Gatsby Foundation. It follows a previous joint white paper and accompanying blog post.
As we reported a month ago, teacher recruitment among secondary schools1 in England declined suddenly in mid-March and continued at well below normal levels into early April. This post provides an update on the situation. SchoolDash has once again been lucky enough to collaborate on this analysis with Teacher Tapp, who have provided the survey data, and the Gatsby Foundation, who have generously funded the work.
Our previous post reported that by 3rd April 2020, SchoolDash's monitoring system had found about 2,000 fewer teacher vacancy advertisements on school websites than during the same period last year. Figure 1, below, provides an update on those statistics, which now include the whole month of April. On a cumulative basis, the shortfall relative to 2019 is now more than 3,000. This corresponds to a year-on-year decline over that period of 38%. (The brief apparent recovery in mid-April is an artefact caused by the different dates of Easter in 2019 and 2020.)
(Use the menu above Figure 1 to switch between daily and cumulative views. Click on the figure legend to turn individual data sets on or off. Hover over the graph to see corresponding values.)
Figure 1: Year-on-year change in number of secondary-school teacher recruitment advertisements in England
To reason why
At any other time of year, this might be seen as a major inconvenience, but the period from March to May is high season for recruiting teachers, most of whom are required to provide notice on their current positions by the end May.
In principle, lower levels of teacher recruitment could be caused by (a) fewer vacancies per school due to more teachers staying put, or (b) schools with vacancies unable to engage in recruiting due to the lockdown. The former is not necessarily bad for schools – though it might have knock-on effects in certain areas, such as placement of newly qualified teachers. The latter is potentially much more serious because it could result in schools being understaffed come September.
To try and distinguish between these possibilites, Figure 2 shows the distribution of schools by numbers of teacher advertisements issued since the start of the downturn in mid-March 2020, along with similar data from corresponding periods in 2019 and 2018.
Looking by number of schools, we can see very consistent results for 2018 (blue columns) and 2019 (red columns), but a rather different distribution for 2020 (yellow columns). If the main cause of the change seen in 2020 was a reduction in numbers of schools recruiting with no change in the number of adverts per school then we would expect to see the same shape of curve, but with lower values for each column. Alternatively, if the main cause was a reduction in numbers of vacancies per school, we would expect the whole graph to shifted to the left.
Unfortunately, in the case of this kind of skewed distribution (which resembles a Zipf curve), these different cases tend to look very similar. Strikingly, the number of schools with just one advert actually grew (even more obvious when viewing the data by proportion of schools), which suggests that fewer adverts per schools is at least part of the reason for the decline. But a combination of simple eyeballing and computer modelling2 suggest that something a bit more complicated is going on, perhaps involving both putative effects.
(Use the menu above Figure 2 to switch between number of schools and proportion of schools. Click on the figure legend to turn individual years on or off. Hover over the graph to see corresponding values.)
Figure 2: Numbers of schools by quantity of advertisements published
Fortunately, Teacher Tapp surveys can shed light where the activity data come up short. Figure 3 shows teachers' responses to surveys conducted on 30th March 2020 (which were also included in our last report) and on 23rd April 2020. These asked how the pandemic had changed their short-term career plans3.
In March, around 14% of respondents said that they had had second thoughts about changing jobs versus 10% who either intended to go ahead with a previously planned job move or had been provoked by the crisis to change jobs. By April, the number of undecided respondents had fallen while those not intending to leave their current jobs has risen slightly. Although we don't have reference values for the same question before the pandemic struck, which creates some uncertainty, these results are consistent with an overall reduction in teacher turnover
(Click on the figure legend to turn individual responses on or off. Hover over the graph to see corresponding values.)
Figure 3: Teachers' short-term career plans (March and April 2020)
Of course, this doesn't mean that schools are unaffected. Figure 4 shows results from another Teacher Tapp survey also conducted on 23rd April 2020, but this time among school leaders4. It shows that around 40% of responding schools have suffered disruption to their recruiting activities during the lockdown, and that more than half of these – comprising 20% of primary schools and 26% of secondary schools – are still experiencing disruption.
Figure 4: School leaders' assessment of recruiting situation (April 2020)
Wither the teacher jobs market?
The big fall in teacher recruitment this year seems best explained by a combination of teachers staying put and schools having difficulty in recruiting during the lockdown. The end results will probably only become fully evident in September, though by then it will be too late to do much to help. Whatever the cause, one potentially serious risk from a slowdown in teacher recruitment is increased difficulty in placing newly qualified teachers (NQTs), who might then be lost to the profession. Fortunately they don't generally face the same end-of-May deadline as other teachers for handing in their notice, so there's still time to mitigate any foreseeable repercussions. The government and other participants should be considering this carefully.
In the meantime, we will continue to monitor activity and survey teachers, and plan to report again in June. Until then, we welcome your thoughts: [email protected].