School closures adversely affect children with neurodevelopmental conditions

19 April 2023

School closures and home schooling during public health emergencies may worsen attendance problems amongst children with neurodevelopmental conditions, a study has revealed.

hild home schooling, by August de Richelieu from Pexels

The study involving Nancy Kouroupa and Vaso Totsika from UCL’s Division of Psychiatry surveyed 809 parents/carers of 5 - 15-year-old autistic children and/or children with an intellectual disability.

Modelling of the survey results showed that rates of school absence and persistent absence were significantly higher in children who were learning at home. This group later missed 4.6 days of a possible 19, when schools re-opened. This contrasts to 1.6 days missed by children who were at school every day and 2.4 days missed by children who went to school at least some days of the week during school closures.

The rates of school absence and persistent absence were significantly higher in the home learning group even after adjusting for confounders. Learning location was not associated with subsequent school refusal.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, schools closed for many students so many children with neurodevelopmental conditions were learning from home during school closures.

The study’s aim was to investigate the association between home learning, hybrid learning and school learning during school closures in January–March 2021 with subsequent school attendance in May 2021 in children with neurodevelopmental conditions.

It is hoped that the study will help policy makers better understand the impact of pandemic education policy decisions on this population. 

The study was funded by the ESRC through a UKRI COVID-19 award. 

Co-author of the study, Vaso Totsika, said: “We do not know why children missed more school but we now have evidence that this national policy of school closures likely exacerbated problems with school attendance. School absence is a serious concern for children with neurodevelopmental conditions and their families. To get children with neurodevelopmental conditions back to school and to regular attendance, families and children need more support.”