A qualitative study about how families coped with managing their well-being, children’s physical activity and education during the COVID-19 school closures in England

Lisa Woodland*, Ava Hodson, Rebecca K. Webster, Richard Amlôt, Louise E. Smith, G. James Rubin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 2020, schools in England closed for six months due to COVID-19, resulting in children being home-schooled. There is limited understanding about the impacts of this on children’s mental and physical health and their education. Therefore, we explored how families coped with managing these issues during the school closures. We conducted 30 qualitative interviews with parents of children aged 18 years and under (who would usually be in school) between 16 and 21 April 2020. We identified three themes and eight sub-themes that impacted how families coped whilst schools were closed. We found that family dynamics, circumstances, and resources (Theme 1), changes in entertainment activities and physical movement (Theme 2) and worries about the COVID-19 pandemic (Theme 3) impacted how well families were able to cope. A key barrier to coping was struggles with home-schooling (e.g., lack of resources and support from the school). However, parents being more involved in their children’s personal development and education were considered a benefit to homeschooling. Managing the lack of entertainment activities and in-person interactions, and additional health worries about loved ones catching COVID-19 were challenges for families. Parents reported adverse behaviour changes in their children, although overall, they reported they were coping well. However, pre-existing social and educational inequalities are at risk of exacerbation. Families with more resources (e.g., parental supervision, access to green space, technology to facilitate home-schooling and no special educational needs) were better able to cope when schools were closed. On balance, however, families appeared to be able to adapt to the schools being closed. We suggest that policy should focus on supporting families to mitigate the widening health and educational gap between families with more and less resources.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0279355
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12 December
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council [grant number ES/ P000703/1] and National Institute for Health and Care Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) [grant number NIHR200890] in Emergency Preparedness and Response, a partnership between the UK Health Security Agency, King’s College London and the University of East Anglia. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR, UKHSA or the Department of Health and Social Care. For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising. The funders had no role in study design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation, or writing of the manuscript. The corresponding author had full access to all the data and had final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright: © 2022 Woodland et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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