Poorer families ‘less likely to want to send children back to school’

Poorer families are less likely to want to send their children back to school amid the Covid-19 pandemic, despite these pupils having fewer opportunities for home learning, a survey suggests.

Children from better-off households are spending an additional 75 minutes a day on educational activities than their peers from the poorest households during the lockdown, research has found.

Pupils from the wealthiest families will have done seven full school days’ worth of extra home learning by June 1, when more pupils could return to school, according to an Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report.

If children do not go back to school until September, the gap between the most affluent and the poorest pupils will double to three school weeks, the study warns.

Fewer than half of parents said they would be willing to send their children back to school if they had the choice, but the higher-income families are more keen for a return to school than lower-income families.

The report from the IFS warns: “This risks a situation where the children struggling the most to cope with home learning remain at home while their better-off classmates are back in the classroom.”

The findings come after ministers and teaching unions were told to “stop squabbling” and agree on a plan for a phased re-opening of primary schools from June 1.

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, said many children were struggling away from the classroom, and the lack of education would have an impact on their future life chances.

The new analysis from the IFS has found that children from more disadvantaged families are spending less time on activities that may be particularly beneficial, such as online classes and with private tutors, and they have fewer educational resources and parental support for home learning.

Researchers have called on the Government to address the disparities between children from different backgrounds during school closures, as they warn the crisis is likely to widen attainment gaps.

A survey, of more than 4,000 parents, found that higher-income families are much more likely than their less well-off peers to report that their child’s school provides interactive resources for learning.

Nearly two in three (64%) secondary pupils in state schools from the richest households are offered some form of active help, compared with 47% from the poorest fifth of families, the poll suggests.

And nearly four in five (79%) secondary school pupils attending private school are offered online classes.

Children in better-off families are twice as likely to receive private tutoring as the poorest children, and 12% of secondary school pupils from the richest households receive an hour or more of daily tutoring.

More than half (58%) of primary school pupils from the least well-off families do not have access to their own study space, compared with only 35% in the most well-off families.

The majority of parents of primary school children report that they are finding it difficult to support their children’s learning at home.

But less than a third (29%) of parents in the poorest families would send their child back to primary school if given the choice, compared with 55% of the most affluent parents.

Alison Andrew, senior research economist at IFS and co-author of the report, said: “This risks leaving the children least able to cope with home learning remaining at home, even as their better-off classmates return to school.”

Lucy Kraftman, research economist at IFS and co-author of the report, added: “These differences will likely widen pre-existing gaps in test scores between children from different backgrounds.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said teachers and school staff were well aware of the additional struggles that children from disadvantaged backgrounds have to contend with: “Internet access is not the norm, space to learn is not available and many deal with high stress levels due to the daily struggle of worrying about money for basics such as food, clothing and heating.

“Schools are doing all they can to support these children during lockdown by sending out out care packs and learning packs.”

He said children should go back to school as soon as it is safe: “For that to happen Government needs to reassure parents and schools that it is safe to do so by publishing the science behind a June wider re opening, and have  testing, tracking and tracing in place for reopening.”

Mr Courtney added: “Ministers must tackle child poverty through the coronavirus economic recovery plan. While this period of lockdown will end, the educational disadvantage that exists as a result of poverty will not. Schools cannot tackle this on their own.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We will do whatever we can to make sure no child, whatever their background, falls behind as a result of coronavirus.

“We have set out plans for a phased return of some year groups from June 1 at the earliest, in line with scientific advice.”

Researchers surveyed 4,157 parents online in England, with children in eight different school years aged between four and 15, between April 29 and May 12.

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