Study finds Scottish schools and pupils still 'several years' away from recovering from Covid-19 pandemic

Students said to be less resilient and find exams more stressful

A major study has found Scottish schools are still “several years” away from recovering from the impact of the pandemic, with pupils less focussed and more stressed than before Covid-19.

The findings are detailed in the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s (SQA) evaluation of courses run in 2023, which gathered the views of almost 5,000 learners, teachers, lecturers and senior examiners.

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It revealed 71 per cent of teachers believed the fall-out from the pandemic still had a “substantial impact on teaching and learning” in 2022/23, with only 18 per cent disagreeing.

Glasgow high school pupils sitting exam. Image: John DevlinGlasgow high school pupils sitting exam. Image: John Devlin
Glasgow high school pupils sitting exam. Image: John Devlin

The same proportion, 71 per cent, disagreed or strongly disagreed that the education system had “recovered well”.

Schools were closed for extended periods during the coronavirus lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, with the disruption now being linked to falling attendance rates, rising levels of anxiety and poor behaviour, as well as development delays.

A huge 94 per cent of teachers surveyed by SQA strongly agreed or agreed that many learners are now less resilient, while 76 per cent said pupils find external assessment more stressful than pre-pandemic cohorts.

Meanwhile, 90 per cent agreed that many students have lower levels of focus in class.

Simon Allan, head of research and evaluation at SQA, said: “There are some signs of recovery but it is becoming increasingly apparent that the impact of the pandemic is both complex and substantial, and it seems very, very likely to us, from this point, that it will take several years for that to fully resolve.”

Many teachers highlighted poorer attendance levels, with one saying: "Post-pandemic, pupils seem to think school is a choice rather than mandatory, which is impacting their progress in senior phase.”

Recently-published statistics showed half of secondary pupils in parts of Scotland are now persistently absent.

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Other school staff cited the influence of mobile phones and social media in the survey, as well as the cost-of-living crisis.

When pupils were asked about Covid, 63 per cent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that ongoing disruption due had a “substantial impact” on their teaching and learning experience last year, with only 18 per cent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.

A total of 38 per cent said the pandemic was continuing to impact their mental wellbeing.

The SQA continued to operate a “sensitive” approach to grading last year, to take account of the impact of Covid.

For the next assessments, it will consider any impact on learners who are being asked to complete certain types of coursework for the first time.

Mr Allan said "Learners thought that the pandemic has had an effect on the development of their skills and knowledge, and I think we would say practitioners overall didn’t feel that the education system has really fully recovered from the pandemic.”

He added: "The majority thought that compared to pre-pandemic learners, learners nowadays are somewhat less resilient, have lower levels of focus, and they have what I’d call less developed foundation skills and knowledge – the knowledge and skills a teacher would typically expect at the beginning of a national qualifications course.

"This combined with data on declining levels of attendance has resulted in a situation where many practitioners believe that learners nowadays find external assessment more stressful than was the case with previous cohorts.”



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