Published: 08:03, 26 January 2021
| Updated: 15:47, 26 January 2021
Concerns have been raised over potential delays to children entering the school system as they catch up with learning lost because of the pandemic.
Millions of youngsters have faced major disruption to their studies at primary and secondary level over the last 10 months, with many studying remotely on their laptops, in their family home, or, working in small classes at school.
The government has decided to keep nurseries open during the third national lockdown, since January 4, to help key workers, but attendances remain low.
KCC's cabinet member for children services, Cllr Sue Chandler (Con), said the attainment gap of disadvantaged students will likely have "exacerbated" and warned about the readiness of children starting school for the first time.
Her comments came during a virtual meeting where KCC's 10-person Conservative cabinet were told about the impact of Covid on schools, including high absence rates and inadequate resources at home, such as Wifi.
David Adams, KCC's interim education director, said it remains likely that more families will defer their child's entry into primary school as some parents believe the child will be "better suited" to having more time in the nursery.
At KCC's cabinet, Mr Adams said: "There will be a cohort of children coming in who have not had the full learning experience at their young age.
"I think it will be a challenge and something that schools will have to respond to in September.
"We will likely see increased numbers wanting to defer their place for a period or, potentially a year, where they are able to do that."
Dave Whitehead, chief executive of the Potential in Everyone Academy Trust, in Sittingbourne, said 25% of pupils were visiting the two nurseries that he represents this month as parents remain nervous about sending their children.
This comes as Kent nursery and preschool attendance rates have dropped off in the last few weeks as around 50% of the usual numbers were attending in the beginning of January, around 14,000 children in total.
KCC's cabinet member for education, Cllr Richard Long (Con) told the virtual cabinet: "One of the most serious consequences of this pandemic has been the loss of learning for all our children."
"I think it will be a challenge and something that schools will have to respond to in September..."
Since the full reopening of schools last September, KCC has offered more help to nurseries and preschools and stood up for the early years education sector last month to lobby the government for extra financial support.
There are 768 early year providers in Kent, including nurseries and preschools. A total of 981 childminders and 89 nurseries are attached to existing primary schools.
No announcements have been made about when schools will reopen, with the likelihood of being after Easter.