William Eichler 07 June 2021

Pandemic hits disadvantaged pupils hardest, study reveals

Pandemic hits disadvantaged pupils hardest, study reveals  image

Disadvantaged pupils have experienced ‘greater learning losses’ than their more affluent peers, new research has found.

On Friday, the Department for Education (DfE) published new research examining the extent of learning loss among primary and secondary school pupils in England during the spring and autumn terms, at both a national and regional level.

The research, which was carried out by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and Renaissance Learning, found that the average learning losses for primary school pupils stood at nearly two months in reading and over three months in maths in the first half of the autumn term.

By the second half of the autumn term, average learning losses had temporarily recovered to 2.7 months in maths for pupils in primary school and 1.2 months in reading for pupils in primary school. However, by the second half of the spring term, following the national lockdown and restrictions to in-person teaching, pupil learning losses regressed to a similar level at the start of the autumn term.

Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have been amongst the biggest losers as a result of the pandemic, according to the research.

By the first half of the autumn term, average learning losses for disadvantaged pupils were 4.3 months in maths for pupils in primary school and two months in reading for pupils in primary school. By the second half of the autumn term these had recovered to 3.3 months in maths for pupils in primary school and 1.6 in reading for pupils in primary school.

According to the EPI, the relative learning loss for disadvantaged pupils was the equivalent of losing between a third and two-thirds of the progress made over the past decade in closing the disadvantage gap in primary schools.

There is also evidence of disparities in learning losses at a regional level. In particular, we find that by the first half of the autumn term, average learning losses in reading for pupils in primary school were 1.5 months in the South West and 1.3 months in London. However, they were 2.3 months in the North East and 2.6 months in Yorkshire and the Humber.

By the second half of the autumn term, average losses in reading for pupils in primary school were 0.8 months in the South West and 1.7 months in London. However, 2.0 months in the North East and 1.7 months in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Commenting on the new research, Jon Andrews, report co-author and head of analysis at the EPI said: ‘This research shows that at a national level, primary school pupils in England were facing average learning losses from the pandemic of around two-three months by the start of the autumn term. Pupils were able to recover learning towards the end of this term – but then, as pupils missed out on in-person learning in early 2021, losses returned to around their early autumn level.

‘Our data analysis points to a clear penalty faced by disadvantaged pupils during the pandemic – these pupils have seen greater learning losses than their more affluent peers, which risks widening the overall gap in educational attainment.

‘There are also significant regional disparities, with regions such as Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East and the East Midlands seeing higher levels of learning loss than pupils in London and the South West.

‘We need to continue to look at how we can support all pupils through effective catch-up programmes, but especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, whose education has seen the most damage from the pandemic. It’s also important that policies address the large losses seen in certain parts of the country.’

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