Some disadvantaged pupils may never return to school following the coronavirus pandemic, headteachers fear.
Children's commissioner Anne Longfield told the Commons Education Select Committee this morning that the distractions of sunny weather and shopping as stores reopen could make it more difficult to get pupils back into school.
She also said that "immense" numbers of pupils were not fulfilling their potential while out of school, and that given the current levels of pupils in school, 8 million children in total would have been out of school for six months by September.
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"There are the disadvantaged children who went into lockdown, there are those that become either doubly disadvantaged or, indeed, new disadvantaged, if you like. But the scale of other children who will be not reaching their potential because of this time out of education is also immense," she said.
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"If we stick to the numbers of classes that are going back right now, that could be 8 million children that have been out of school for six months by September – so that’s a significant amount of children, you know.
"We looked at figures of kids not going online before their parents went back to work and before the sun came out for any length of time, and frankly before other things became more interesting – the shops will be open soon, and kids could have spent two and a half months browsing Primark but not being in school.
"So the other things that will actually be distractions will become more and more, and those that are disadvantaged and maybe have negative experiences of school will have more and more time away from it."
Ms Longfield said some headteachers had spoken to her of fears that some disadvantaged pupils would never return.
"As some headteachers have been saying to me, they stay up worrying about whether those children will ever come back, because the leap that that will need to take them back into school will be so vast," she said.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “School and college leaders are desperately worried about their pupils during this crisis, and particularly young people who struggle with learning and are most at risk of becoming disengaged.
"There is clearly a danger that some of these pupils, in older age groups, simply do not return. This is why the government needs to work with the sector now to explore how more support can be provided in the immediate future, and how we build an effective blended model of remote education and face-to-face contact for all pupils from September. This is a huge challenge. Time is short, and we need to develop a clearly planned national mission as soon as possible.”