School closures and children’s emotional and behavioural difficulties
School closures have been one of the most dramatic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on society. Concerns about the impact of school closures on children’s learning were raised early on in the pandemic and work continues to mitigate lost learning. There is also widespread concern about the detrimental impact of the pandemic on children’s mental wellbeing, but there are likely to be a number of mechanisms at work here, including parents’ employment situation, anxiety about relatives’ health and social isolation. In this briefing note we specifically examine the role of school closures in England on the emotional and behavioural wellbeing of children aged 5-11, as measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) in the UK Household Longitudinal Study. We make use of the fact that in England certain primary school year groups (Reception, Year 1 and Year 6) were prioritised to return to school after the first lockdown from 1 June 2020, while in other year groups rates of return were much lower and often only vulnerable children and children of key workers were able to attend school. This allows us to assess how emotional and behavioural difficulties changed from pre-pandemic levels for children who were prioritised to return to school, compared to those who were not, after accounting for ways in which the two groups may differ, including age. Data collected in late July enables us to assess the short term effect of missing out on up to an additional six weeks of schooling – on top of the schooling all children missed between March and May – on children’s emotional and behavioural difficulties. Data collected in late September allows us to assess whether the effect of these different school experiences during the second half of the summer term persists once all year groups had returned to face-to-face teaching in the new academic year.