International project sets out to understand impact of COVID school closures

A new international research project is exploring the effect school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic has had on children’s learning.


A new international research project is exploring the effect school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic has had on children’s learning.

Academics at Birmingham City University are leading the research, which also involves The Big Issue, Birmingham City of Sanctuary and other organisations across Europe.

The Collaborative, Community Mapping of Young People’s Learning Experiences During COVID-19 project – CO-MAP for short – is being carried out with partners across five European countries and is backed by £300k of funding from Erasmus+, the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe.

The project, which has just launched and which will take two years to complete, will bring together researchers, school teachers, young people and their families, community artists, charities, street newspapers, and other organisations from across the UK, Germany, Greece, Hungary and the Netherlands.

Its aim is to explore how school closures during the pandemic affected young people’s experiences of teaching and learning across all five countries, comparing and contrasting responses to the closures in each and the impact on local communities.

Understanding how children and young people coped during the crisis is a critical aspect of the project and they will be given the opportunity to document their experiences though illustrated stories, which will be published in The Big Issue in the UK and similar street newspapers in the other countries involved.

Researchers will also be gathering accounts from parents and education practitioners as well as young people. Findings from each country will be used to inform future policy around potential school closures to better the experience of informal learning and home schooling for all.

CO-MAP project lead, Professor Alex Kendall from Birmingham City University, said:

The COVID pandemic has had a huge impact on society as a whole, not just education, but school is such a significant element of children’s development so it’s vitally important that we study the effect that their closure had and to use this knowledge for the benefit of schools, their pupils and their wider communities.

Professor Alex Kendall, Associate Dean, Research and Business Development

The CO-MAP project will pay particular attention to how the pandemic has affected children living in difficult circumstances and already feeling marginalised, such as those experiencing financial strain or domestic abuse, and how COVID exacerbated existing problems such as mental health and wellbeing, diet and digital poverty.

Likewise, the project team will look at how the pandemic disproportionately affected other marginalised groups such as asylum seekers and refugees, building on previous research that Birmingham City University carried out with refugee charity Birmingham City of Sanctuary which aimed to reduce disparities in learning outcomes for these communities.

But the CO-MAP project is not solely focussed on the detrimental impact of school closures. It will also investigate and highlight how children adjusted to home schooling, what they achieved and learned throughout the pandemic, and the resilience they showed during this period of adversity.

Researchers also wish to draw attention to the efforts made by teachers to adapt their lessons and support their pupils, and present a positive picture of the help children were given by their parents and carers, family members, friends and the wider community.

Research Assistant for the CO-MAP project, Mary-Rose Puttick from Birmingham City University, explained:

We want to look at both the good and bad aspects of school closures during the pandemic – recognising the challenges but also celebrating how schools and their communities came together during the crisis.

“By working with community artists to help young people tell their story of the pandemic through comic strips published in The Big Issue and other newspapers, we’re also giving them a voice to articulate their experiences.”

Mary-Rose Puttick, Research Assistant

Barbara Forbes, Coordinator at Birmingham Schools of Sanctuary, part of Birmingham City of Sanctuary, added:

“This project comes at just the right time as schools begin to count the cost of the last 15 months and reflect on how they coped while the vast majority of their pupils were confined to their homes.

“We know that our schools rose to this challenge so we’re looking forward to working with Birmingham City University to learn from and promote what our schools did well and to acknowledge and attempt to overcome the obstacles they experienced.”

Kepe Róbert, Editor-in-Chief of Hungary’s Fedél Nélkül newspaper, which is also supporting the CO-MAP project, said:

“As a result of the pandemic, young people in Hungary faced situations which before seemed so distant to them but which many marginalised minorities have regularly encountered such as exclusion and isolation. We are delighted to be involved in this international research project and to play our part in articulating the experiences of our vulnerable communities.”


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