Gaining a deeper understanding of the impacts of Covid-19

ERO continues to investigate the impacts of Covid-19 on schools and early learning centres and to quickly share its findings to help you prepare and respond to the ongoing challenges from Covid-19.

Covid-19: Impact on Schools and Early Childhood Services interim report provides our initial analysis from the second round of this research. It is based on interviews with 110 schools and 95 early learning services in the English medium education sector in June, July and August 2020 and insights from the Māori medium education sector. Our interviews with schools, leaders and services focused on:

  • What helped in lockdown?
  • How well have children/students transitioned between lockdown levels?
  • What are the ongoing challenges? 

The key findings include:

In early years

  • Gradual reopening helped – nearly half of the services reported this
  • Anxiety is an issue – one-in-three services reported anxiety of parents and kaiako
  • Kaiako stress and sick leave is an issue – one-in-five services report staff absences and one-in-ten services indicated that next time they would “focus on staff wellbeing” earlier
  • Attendance is holding up for now – less than a fifth of services reported reduced rolls or children attending fewer hours (but this may change when the wage subsidy ends)
  • Vulnerable children may be struggling – some services reported concern that children with additional learning needs have not progressed as expected.

In schools

  • Staff wellbeing is the biggest concern – three-quarters of schools reported challenges related to exhaustion, sickness, stress about workload, anxiety about health, or principal stress
  • Learner wellbeing has been the priority – nearly three-quarters of schools reported prioritizing learner wellbeing over academic learning during lockdown. Many reported deferring planned assessments
  • Lower-decile schools are facing more challenges transitioning students back to school 
  • A quarter of schools reported financial concerns. 

What helped in early childhood services?

Looking at what helped for early childhood services in lockdown, three themes emerged:

  • Regular and clear communication. Regular and clear communication with kaiako, parents and whānau has been a key priority for all services – 80% reported that they had contacted parents and whānau over the lockdown period.
  • Supporting parents. Nearly half of services reported that their kaiako had encouraged and supported parents to help their children learn at home. A fifth of services provided online curriculum experiences, which included literacy, music and dance. Other support provided by services included providing information related to children’s behaviour and support for families who are struggling financially. Over a third of services provided Ministry of Education (MoE) resource packs to children. In addition, a third of kindergartens and home-based education and care services said they provided their own resource packs.
  • Support from MoE. Two-thirds of services reported that the MoE Bulletin provided “very useful and succinct information”. Nearly a third of services (30%) commented on the supportive telephone calls and guidance provided by the Ministry’s regional offices.

What helped in schools?

For schools there were four themes identified as helping during lockdown:

  • Being prepared. Two-thirds of the schools reported that they had successfully prepared for lockdown. Factors associated with schools who reported being prepared included using digital technology as an established part of their teaching practice and having up-to-date contact details for learners and whānau. Some of these schools reported that they had been planning and preparing in advance of any official guidance, based on their own monitoring of the pandemic, nationally and internationally.
  • Support from MoE and others. Nearly half of leaders expressed positive feedback about MoE’s communications and bulletins, while noting that it was often difficult to keep up with the quantity of guidance, and the pace of change as the situation developed. The distribution of digital devices was challenging, but leaders were positive about MoE’s physical learning packs. Some leaders also reported that they had been well supported by their Kāhui Ako or other regional networks or professional networks. Board chairs were very positive about the advice and guidance they received from the New Zealand School Trustees Association.
  • Strong communications. Many leaders reported that this regular communication helped to build teacher relationships with whānau and gave whānau greater insight into their children’s learning. Teachers used a combination of phone calls, emails, video calling and other digital platforms to regularly check in with learners and whānau. This was key to maintaining learner engagement, and as a way of monitoring learner and whānau wellbeing. Around a third of leaders specifically cited greater whānau involvement and integration of home and school learning as a success over the period. In the Māori medium education sector, leaders strengthened their communication with their kura whānau, which had a profound calming and reassuring impact on whānau, kaiako and the wider community.
  • Prioritising wellbeing. Seventy percent of leaders reported that they had explicitly prioritised learner wellbeing over academic learning during lockdown. Leaders recognised that they could not expect the normal level of engagement and workload during lockdown and made clear to learners and whānau that learning was second to wellbeing. Some schools reported modifying their curriculum to include more fun activities, and to encourage learners to engage in physical activity as appropriate. Wellbeing was also the main priority for leaders across the Māori medium education sector, which included the health, safety, physical needs (emotional, cultural and spiritual) of whānau and kaiako.

These findings are preliminary but are being shared early to help the sector to understand and plan for the ongoing impacts of Covid-19.

ERO’s future work in this space will include a follow-up survey of principals, teachers and students to understand ongoing impacts; analysis of selected schools to investigate the ongoing impact on student engagement and achievement; and targeted focus groups to learn more about a range of issues, including how to ensure preparedness of schools for future lockdowns and impacts on Māori and Pacific student outcomes.

ERO’s first report, Covid-19: Learning in Lockdown, surveyed teachers and students about their experience of teaching and learning in the initial lockdown.