Over 40% of parents of primary school students and 38% of parents of secondary school students felt their child found remote learning 'difficult' or 'very difficult', according to new data from the Schools Infection Survey (SIS).
'Struggling with motivation' was reported as the main barrier to learning at home by 39% of primary school pupils' parents, 44% of secondary school pupils' parents and 55% of secondary school students themselves.
The main concern for teachers about providing remote education was a lack of engagement from pupils (69% in primary and 74% in secondary).
Secondary school pupils absent from school due to a COVID-19 related reason during the autumn term reportedly spent longer on remote learning, 3.4 hours on average, than primary school pupils, who spent 2.5 hours on average.
It is concerning to find that even in this volunteer sample of pupils, engagement and motivation is considerably reduced when remote learning is required. More than a third of pupils had to revert to remote learning at some point in autumn 2021, which required fast, flexible responses and greater school resources.
This work would not be possible without the active involvement of parents, pupils and headteachers. It is providing timely and important information to policymakers in order to help support resilience and, hopefully, recovery within schools for children and adolescents. We also hope that this will help inform those developing good practice for remote learning in the future to try to ensure pupils are getting the same benefits and experience they do from face-to-face learning."
Professor Punam Mangtani, co-chief investigator of the study, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM)
These findings were collected from the second round of the 'Headteacher, Parent and Pupils' questionnaires, with 2,482 pupils and parents on the health of 7,010 children responding between 18 January and 9 February 2022, and 125 headteachers providing responses between 26 January and 11 February 2022.
The SIS project is jointly led by LSHTM, Office for National Statistics (ONS) and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
The proportion of pupils reporting that they always wore face coverings in lessons was 50%, compared to 80% reported before the government recommendation for secondary school pupils to wear face coverings in lessons was removed on 20 January 2022.
61% of headteachers and 70% of secondary school pupils said that wearing face coverings in school definitely or probably should be made mandatory, compared to 97% of primary school headteachers who said that face coverings definitely or probably should not be made mandatory.
Professor Mangtani said: "Parents and older pupils were clearly aware of the protection and benefit of wearing a mask when there was a new wave of high infection rates with a new variant, with a high percentage of secondary pupils and parents reporting that face masks help keep others and themselves safer. This is extremely promising and suggests that, should the need arise, the reintroduction of mask wearing could be understood and sustainable. For primary school children there is a finer balance between benefit and risk, and other interventions should be adequately resourced such as good ventilation, smaller classes to reduce mixing in schools and possibly regular preventive testing."
Fiona Dawe, Deputy Director, Wider Surveillance Studies at the ONS, said: "Today's data, collected through in-depth questionnaires completed by pupils, parents and headteachers show that a high percentage of pupils found remote learning to be difficult, according to their parents.
"We can also see how pupils' behavior has changed, with nearly half of pupils continuing to always wear face coverings in lessons even after the government recommendation to do so was removed.
"Learning about the kinds of challenges faced by schools over the last two years wouldn't be possible without the pupils, parents and head teachers that have participated in this study - thank you."
Dr Shamez Ladhani, Consultant Paediatrician at the UK Health Security Agency and the study's chief investigator, said: "These findings show the impact of the pandemic on children, young people and their parents, and the difficulties of remote learning.
"Keeping students in school, where they feel more motivated and where more support is available, remains vital to their health, wellbeing and future prosperity.
"Schools are not only important for children's education, but also for their health and wellbeing and for helping to deliver routine childhood immunizations such as flu, HPV, meningococcal ACWY and the 3-in-1 booster for tetanus, diphtheria and polio. Many children and young people may have missed out on their vaccinations because of the pandemic. Parents are encouraged to contact their GP to get their child vaccinated where eligible, to protect themselves and those around them."
Data from the parent and pupil questionnaires are weighted to population totals for pupils in England. Headteacher questionnaire data are unweighted due to small sample sizes.