Nine in 10 teachers think ‘word gap’ has widened in lockdown, survey suggests

Teachers worry the youngest children in schools will have been most severely affected

Nine in 10 teachers think school closures and remote learning will have disproportionately affected disadvantaged students’ literacy and widened the ‘word gap’, an Oxford University Press survey suggests.

Teachers predicted that the ‘word gap’ – or the inequality in literacy levels for advantaged and disadvantaged young people – would widen as a result of the lockdown, leaving children without the vocabulary they need to access their learning. The impact of lower literacy levels could also result in low self-esteem, the survey’s responses warned.

The survey was conducted by the education division of Oxford University Press (OUP) and comprised a small sample size of 84 senior English teachers and school leaders.

The poll suggests seven in 10 (73%) fear the impact on students’ vocabulary development will be ‘significant’ and nine in 10 (92%) think the word gap will widen. Most teachers (68%) thought those in key stage one would be most severely affected. Despite the fears around the word gap, the majority surveyed stated that emotional wellbeing would take precedence once children returned to classrooms, with many likely to find the return to study a confusing and challenging readjustment.

“Students will need support in their wellbeing in the first instance and just ‘see’ people. Our school will support this first before getting them back on track academically,” said one secondary school head of department in England.

“I feel social work and counselling skills will come to the front rather than teaching skills. There will be a lot of other stuff to deal with before we can even think about getting back to teaching,” said a primary school head of year in England.

The poll comes ahead of a new Autumn 2020 report from OUP on the word gap in UK schools, focusing on primary to secondary school transition and the recent school closures.

Jane Harley, policy and partnerships direction (education) at OUP, said: “We remain totally committed to supporting teachers, children and parents in closing the language gap. Over the last year we have continued our research into children’s language development and, more recently, have focused on the challenges facing teachers as more children return to the classroom following school closures.

“Extending from our original research, the Oxford Language Report: Why Closing the Language Gap Matters, we will be releasing a new report this Autumn to reflect the latest thinking around the implications of the word gap and its impact on children, in the light of Covid-19. This will have a particular focus on transition. We hope that our insights, and the wealth of resources and practical advice for teachers and parents on how to boost vocabulary, increase talk and encourage reading over the summer will be of particular benefit to these children.”

Related news: Schools introduced ‘enhanced measures’ to support mental health during lockdown, says HMC

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