The Covid-19 pandemic has affected educational systems worldwide, leading to the near-total closures of educational institutions in the UK. As of 6 May 2020, schools were suspended in 177 countries affecting over 1.3 billion learners worldwide, and in many cases closures have resulted in the universal cancellation of examinations. UNICEF estimated that almost 4 months of education will be lost as a result of the first lockdown.
School closures have far-reaching economic and societal consequences, including the disruption of everyday behaviours and routines. In the UK, over 2 million workers have already lost their jobs, and although the long-term impact of the pandemic on education is not yet clear, the pre-existing attainment gap between the poorest and richest children7 may widen significantly as a result of COVID-19. Children and young people make up 21% of the population of England,10 and by the time they returned to school after the summer break, some would have been out of education for nearly 6 months.
In a paper published in the journal BMJ Open, we explored how the lockdown affected the mental health of parents of school-age children, and in particular to assess the impact of an extended period of school closures on feelings of social isolation and loneliness.
We collected data for 6 weeks during the first 100 days of lockdown in the UK and found that female gender, lower levels of physical activity, parenting a child with special needs, lower levels of education, unemployment, reduced access to technology, not having a dedicated space where the child can study and the disruption of the child’s sleep patterns during the lockdown are the main factors associated with a significantly higher odds of parents reporting feelings of loneliness.
We concluded that school closures and social distancing measures implemented during the first 100 days of the COVID-19 lockdown significantly impacted the daily routines of many people and influenced various aspects of government policy. Policy prescriptions and public health messaging should encourage the sustained adoption of good health-seeking self-care behaviours including increased levels of physical activity and the maintenance of good sleep hygiene practices to help prevent or reduce the risk of social isolation and loneliness, and this applies in particular where there is a single parent. Policymakers need to balance the impact of school closures on children and their families, and any future risk mitigation strategies should ideally not be a further disadvantage to the most vulnerable groups in society.