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Education: children, parents and schools

The social distancing measures adopted in the UK as well as many other countries to limit the spread of Covid-19 include the closure of all schools and childcare settings for an indefinite period of time. Only a minority of children – vulnerable children and children of key workers - are still attending school and childcare facilities. Most children are at home with parents or carers. Schools tend to harmonize differences, levelling the playing field for children but now children are faced with a diversity of environments, as families vary greatly in parental time, ability and motivation to home-school, as well as in access to resources such as laptops or a quiet work space. For most young people, schools are also the most important channels for socialization and the acquisition of soft skills and social awareness. There is therefore a serious concern that children’s human capital accumulation, both cognitive as well as non-cognitive, may be negatively impacted with long term consequences on attainment and potential increases in inequality.

MiSoC research speaks very directly to the impact of the home and school environment on child outcomes. Our work spans the entire lifecycle, including the analysis of early childhood parental investments (Baranov et al. 2020, Del Bono et al., 2016), the effects of state-subsidised childcare on educational attainment (Blanden et al., 2016; Blanden et al., 2020), the role of school resources (Nicoletti and Rabe, 2018), and the interaction between parental and school inputs (Greaves et al., 2019). All of this work points to the relevance of family background in explaining skills and educational gaps and the dynamic interactions across children, families and institutions which lead to persistence of initial socio-economic differences over the long run - read Ayse Guveli’s blog explaining her reasoning for sending children from disadvantaged families back to school first following the Covid-19 closures. Other recent contributions that bear upon this discussion indicate how the local environment, and in particular the level of ethnic segregation and fractionalization in the neighbourhood, affect the dynamics of social participation among teenagers with potentially relevant and long-term repercussions on a range of non-cognitive skills (Fumagali and Fumagalli, 2020).

We plan to build upon our expertise in this area. We will investigate the impact of school closures on children’s educational and mental health outcomes, with a particular focus on the inequalities that may emerge and widen as a result of differential access to (remote) educational and parental inputs. Specifically, MiSoC Director Emilia Del Bono, co-I Birgitta Rabe and Laura Fumagalli are collecting evidence from UK schools about their ability to provide education and learning through web-based platforms and applications. Together with MiSoC co-I Adeline Delavande, they are also conducting a study with secondary schools which will allow them to understand the role of parental inputs (measured by hours of help with homework) in the production of educational attainment. New data available from Understanding Society and linked to school-level data will be used to examine the long-term implications of school closure on a range of cognitive and non-cognitive child outcomes.