Scotland is risking a “lost generation” of children due to the impact of lockdown on educational attainment, ministers have been warned.

The fears emerged after publication of survey data indicating that the threat of youngsters falling behind in their lessons has overtaken mental health as the top concern for families.

Many parents also said the challenge of home schooling had been increased by poor understanding of what is being taught and lack of access to technology.

The survey findings, published today by Action for Children (AfC), come amid a growing debate over how to tackle the issue of delayed progress in learning as a result of Covid-related campus closures.

READ MORE: Headteachers brand proposals a 'non-starter'

Westminster Education Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed recently that longer school days, shorter summer holidays and five-term years were all options being considered for pupils in England.

But union leaders here have rejected plans for “catch-up” sessions, arguing that the focus should instead be on providing one-to-one or small group support and creating smaller classes.

Paul Carberry, AfC director for Scotland, said: “Our research shows the damaging impact these last 12 months have had on the most vulnerable in society.

“Sadly, the longer this pandemic has lasted, the more and more families now find themselves in crisis.

“We have also seen many instances of families reaching out for support for the very first time, with Covid seeing them going from ‘getting by’ to finding themselves struggling. We are seeing that extreme family stress and strain is the price children and young people are paying. A legacy of lockdown shouldn’t be a ‘Covid or lost generation’, instead we can create a ‘resilience generation’.

“To do this we need to fund family support services, equalise education opportunities, multiply mental health provision and put money in the pockets of families.”

HeraldScotland: There are fears over the impact on pupils following an extended period of disruption to learning.There are fears over the impact on pupils following an extended period of disruption to learning.

AfC said it conducted interviews with more than 100 frontline workers representing each of its 87 projects in Scotland.

Participants were asked about key issues facing families as they battle to recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Figures suggest that, at the start of Covid restrictions in March last year, the risk to mental health was by far the biggest source of anxiety.

Seventy-two per cent said it was a concern for those they were helping, while only 15% mentioned education.

However, when asked about what was currently causing stress, 44% referred to teaching and learning.

This was followed by financial matters (39%), jobs (38.3%), mental health (37%) and physical health (4%).

READ MORE: Scottish education mired in 'stagnation', warns report

When staff were asked what challenges families faced when it came to home schooling, 28% said parents felt they did not understand the work or that they lacked the ability to help.

Just over one-quarter (26%) mentioned difficulties in accessing the necessary technology and digital equipment.

Summing up the views of some of the families she works with, one worker said: “Parents and carers can feel frustrated and hopeless that they are unable to help their children as they may themselves have additional learning needs or are not technologically confident, so don’t feel they are able to help.”

There were also worrying indications that the pandemic has damaged family bonds.

Twenty-nine per cent of respondents said they thought relationships were more strained, with 10% telling interviewers families had become more distant.

Nine per cent said they felt families had been brought closer together.

READ MORE: MSPs bid to raise school starting age to 7

Nikki and Adam Wallis, who live with daughters Katelynn, 10, Macey, seven, Quinn, five, and Carly, two, in Selkirk, said the pressures had been intense.

Before the pandemic, the family was just about managing financially but it was a struggle as the couple both had to give up work after Mr Wallis, 30, was diagnosed with arthritis.

HeraldScotland: The Wallis family.The Wallis family.

They have received food vouchers from AfC since the Covid crisis began.

“We are only in a two-bed house with four kids and two adults,” said Mrs Wallis, who is 32.

“They all get bored very easily. With Covid the cost of living went up, snacks, gas and electricity, lights left on all the time.

“It really helped to have that financial help. We would have been in debt even just with the gas and electric.”

She added: “Normally I budget well and don’t like to ask. I think there is always someone worse off than me. I prefer not to ask and take from someone who does need it more.”

READ MORE: School leavers opt for higher or further education

AfC has now published a manifesto outlining measures it says will help to boost resilience.

Among them are a proposed increase in the Scottish Child Payment to £20 a week, an education catch-up fund and a national programme aimed at ensuring all low-income students get an electronic device for learning alongside connectivity.

Jamie Greene, shadow education spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “Action for Children have highlighted many serious issues and we would agree with many of their calls to support our pupils.

“We have a raft of proposals which will go directly to the heart of current failings in education.

“We will recruit an additional 3,000 teachers for our classrooms, roll out a national tutoring scheme and want a Covid catch-up plan to be urgently implemented in order to avoid a lost generation of pupils.”

HeraldScotland: Education Secretary John Swinney.Education Secretary John Swinney.

A Government spokeswoman said: “Last year, we invested nearly £2 billion to support low income households including £672m on families.

“Since then, we have spent over £1bn of additional funding to support people impacted by the Covid pandemic in our communities.

“We are also making an additional £100m available to support people on low incomes.

“This will provide around 500,000 households in receipt of Council Tax Reduction with a direct cash payment of £130. We will also make two additional Family Pandemic Payments, worth £100 for each child in receipt of Free School Meals on the basis of low income ... These measures are in addition to our £49.75m for free school meals which will see free school meal holiday support to all children and young people who are currently eligible for free school meals on the basis of low income.

“Following payments starting in February, our ‘game-changing’ Scottish Child Payment is now reaching families with children under six and could reach up to 163,000 eligible children in the next financial year.”