The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published the interim findings from a study assessing the extent to which Key Stage 1 pupils’ attainment in reading and maths were impacted by partial school closures during the first national Covid-19 lockdown, and particularly the effect on disadvantaged pupils. This paper focuses on the gap in attainment likely caused by March 2020 school closures (commonly called ‘learning loss’), and the disadvantage gap for Year 2 children as measured in autumn 2020.
The findings suggest that primary-age pupils have significantly lower achievement in both reading and maths as a likely result of missed learning. In addition, there is a large and concerning attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils.
This study is one of the first to provide robust insights into the extent of learning loss that might have occurred as a result of partial school closures. It is based on data collected by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) from assessments in reading and maths taken in November 2020 by more than 5,900 Year 2 (6 / 7 year olds) pupils in 168 representative primary schools. These were compared with tests taken by Year 2 pupils in autumn 2017, also from a representative sample of schools.
Overall performance in both reading and mathematics in autumn 2020 was found to be significantly lower compared to the 2017 cohort, with pupils, on average, making two months less progress in both subject areas compared to the standardisation sample. Worryingly, the study finds that “a very large number of pupils were unable to engage effectively with the tests”.
The study also finds a large and concerning gap between the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils. For both reading and maths this gap is estimated to be the equivalent of seven months’ learning. While both calculations indicate a large gap, the results, expressed in terms of months of learning, should be interpreted with caution.
The 2017 NFER assessment data did not compare the performance of disadvantaged pupils with all other pupils. As a result, it is not known if the gap has grown compared to 2017.
These interim findings are part of an ongoing EEF-funded study. Further analysis will be carried out in March 2021 and June 2021 to examine whether the gap narrows, widens or remains stable. In addition to these preliminary findings, NFER is preparing a short publication for teachers that will include more detailed commentary on pupils’ responses and suggestions that schools can act upon.
Last June, the EEF published a rapid evidence assessment, Best evidence on impact of school closures on the attainment gap, which found that school closures are likely to reverse progress made to close the gap in the last decade since 2011.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “By the time schools reopen, children and young people will have faced almost a year of learning disruption. The repercussions of these months of lost learning are devastating and will be felt for a lifetime, especially by those from low-income backgrounds.
“Today’s findings give valuable insight into the challenges facing schools and teachers. Vast resources need to be targeted at disadvantaged pupils by raising the pupil premium significantly and providing funding for tuition.”
Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “This new research offers compelling evidence of what we have feared since schools were closed to most pupils in the first national lockdown – that there will be a large negative impact on learning, with disadvantaged pupils suffering the most. Despite the inspiring and tireless work of schools across the country, this will only be compounded by the current partial school closures.
“It is vital, therefore, that we draw on the best available evidence in responding to this national crisis, supporting teachers and school leaders to get the right support to the pupils who have missed out most.
“But we should be under no illusions that there are quick fixes. Schools will need continued and significant support in the years ahead if we are to avoid a generation of pupils being left behind. This latest research highlights, yet again, the need, to make tackling educational inequality a national priority.”
Dr Ben Styles, head of the National Foundation for Educational Research’s Education Trials Unit said: “There has been lots of speculation about the extent to which children may have fallen behind and it is valuable to report some attainment data on this question.
“Measuring gaps in test scores is not much use to teachers without more diagnostic information concerning where children have fallen behind and we hope to provide this imminently.”