Some students get lucky with an older sibling who actively helps them with their homework or plays teacher from time to time.
Amy Forrester, director of pastoral care (key stage 4) and head of Year 10 at Cockermouth School in Cumbria, says this was particularly apparent during the pandemic.
“It was definitely an advantage in cases where you had one student who was A-level age and their sibling was doing their GCSEs.
“They had that recent enough experience to be able to go, ‘Right, this is what you need to do’ – the operational knowledge that parents don’t necessarily have. And they could pass
on revision guides and notes. I know lots of our families definitely found that helpful.”
However, as is ever the case, not all siblings are the same. Charlotte Beardsley, a sociology teacher at Saint Benedict School in Derby, says she mostly saw the opposite play out during the lockdowns: “Older siblings tended to leave the younger ones to get on with it, thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t have any help’.”
Indeed, the pandemic probably heightened the pre-existing sibling dynamic, suggests Cheti Nicoletti, professor of economics at the University of York.
“My guess is that the spillover effect probably has increased during the pandemic because, obviously, siblings spent much more time together,”, she says.
“If you have a good role model in an older sibling, you’ll probably do better. If you have an older sibling that is not into working, this can have a negative spillover.
“In school, you can see the ‘standard’ in terms of how much to study, for example, but at home, that’s not visible any more.”
Of course, whether having siblings was an advantage or a disadvantage when schools went into lockdown would depend a lot on a family’s background. If you’re a low-income family with limited resources, siblings were perhaps more likely to be seen as competition for kitchen table space, devices and data.