Meanwhile, the proportion of pupils achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of primary school fell from 65 per cent in 2018-19 to 59 per cent in 2022-23.
The report says that if schools had been considered essential infrastructure (putting them on par with hospitals and public transport, which remained open during Covid), children may not have suffered harms such as learning loss, child abuse and a high risk of poor mental health. .
It adds that early education experts were “particularly concerned” about children’s speech and language development, with some noting delays in babies’ physical development after daycares closed.
Ministers have not learned lessons from lockdown, campaigners warn, pointing to the specific crisis that has caused dozens of schools to close or partially close and forced thousands of students to return to distance learning.
“Before the pandemic, mass closures of schools, daycares and universities seemed unthinkable,” the report says. “But after multiple lockdowns, Covid bubble policies, teacher strikes and the Raac crisis, ensuring schools are open to all pupils no longer seems a priority.”
It comes as a Durham education trust was forced to reintroduce remote learning due to dangerous concrete in school buildings and mandated pandemic-style GCSE and A-level assessments, where pupils’ previous work is used to judge their abilities.
Sir Gavin Williamson, who was Education Secretary during the pandemic, said: “It is clear that schools and early years settings must be protected above all else. By doing so, we safeguard the future and must recognize that we will have to sacrifice other things in the future to keep them open if another pandemic ever occurs.”
The Telegraph’s Lockdown Files revealed that Sir Gavin fought for schools to reopen in January 2021, but his efforts were defeated after a “rearguard action” by Matt Hancock, then health secretary.
The Telegraph has also exposed how the Government’s Counter Misinformation Unit monitored social media posts criticizing Covid policies, including the decision to close schools.