Dr. Anna Tsakalaki (Lecturer in Education, University of Reading) and Catherine Hewitt (a third-year BA in Primary Education student, University of Reading) responded to a call for evidence of the UK Parliament’s Education Select Committee on how vulnerable and disadvantaged children were supported during the global pandemic.

The report (see Code COE0022) summarises results of an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) project, funded by the University of Reading, that Dr. Tsakalaki and Catherine ran during the UK’s first lockdown, and new findings from Catherine’s undergraduate research project which she started during the UK’s third lockdown.

The project is ongoing and seeks to find which barriers for learning and wellbeing of children with SEND persist one year into the pandemic. Evidence from families were collected through an on-line survey, and in-depth interviews are still ongoing.


Dr. Tsakalaki said:

Among other findings we saw that a side effect of consecutive school closures was that families became educators of their vulnerable children, a role which they exercised to a different extent depending on confidence and support from school. There was inconsistency and sometimes inadequacy of teaching and learning materials designed for specific needs which resulted in parents adapting materials. We spotted a major gap between families in the access and benefits of technology to support learning and in many cases a difficulty in accessing peer-to-peer support for educating vulnerable and disadvantaged children leading to feelings of isolation among parents/carers. 

The report’s findings support claims about disproportionate chances for inequality in the learning experiences of pupils with SEND and those from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as a high risk of developing anxiety and reluctance to re-join formal schooling.

It is essential that the Department for Education accelerates support even at this stage to enable a smoother transition to formal schooling and I am glad that the Education Select Committee gave us the opportunity to communicate evidence and recommendations to help in that direction.”


Catherine said:

“As a trainee teacher, I found learning about the families’ perspective of their school’s COVID-19 provision interesting. I have gained a greater understanding of the importance of listening to families views, and taking these on board to improve their child’s school experience. In this project we identified drawbacks and positive aspects in school’s provisions during the COVID-19 lockdowns. We have been able to offer strategies to accelerate pupil progression and confidence returning back to school. I am really proud to be part of this project and support the development of the education policy.”


To learn more about Dr. Tsakalaki’s research interests, visit her profile page here. She tweets at @anna_tsakalaki.