Pupils’ reading and maths performance ‘significantly lower’ amid school closures


Primary-age pupils’ performance in both reading and maths has dropped significantly following school closures during the first lockdown, a study suggests.

There is a “large and concerning” attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers, research from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) charity has found.

The gap is estimated to be the equivalent of seven months’ learning for both reading and maths.

Interim findings from the study suggest that Year 2 pupils had a lower achievement in the autumn as a likely result of missed learning.

Pupils, on average, were making around two months’ less progress in maths and reading in autumn 2020 compared to a 2017 cohort, the research said.

The study is based on data collected by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) from assessments in reading and maths taken in November by nearly 6,000 six and seven-year-olds in 168 schools in England.

These were compared with tests taken by pupils of the same age in autumn 2017, also from a representative sample of schools.

The study also found that “a very large number of pupils were unable to engage effectively with the tests”.

It comes after Boris Johnson said schools will receive £300 million of new money for catch-up tutoring as he confirmed that school closures in England will be extended until at least March 8.

The Prime Minister told MPs that the Government would work with parents, teachers and schools to develop “a long-term plan to make sure pupils have the chance to make up their learning over the course of this parliament.”

He said: “We recognise these extended school closures have had a huge impact on children’s learning, which will take more than a year to make up.”

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the EEF, 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.”

He called for additional resources to be targeted at disadvantaged pupils by raising the pupil premium funding.

Professor Becky Francis, chief executive of the EEF, said the research shows “there will be a large negative impact on learning, with disadvantaged pupils suffering the most.”

She added: “Despite the inspiring and tireless work of schools across the country, this will only be compounded by the current partial school closures.

“Schools will need continued and significant support in the years ahead if we are to avoid a generation of pupils being left behind.”

The 2017 NFER assessment data did not compare the performance of disadvantaged pupils with all other pupils. As a result, researchers do not know if the disadvantage gap has grown compared to 2017.

Further analysis of pupils’ attainment will be carried out in March and June.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the “bleak findings” emphasised the need for more catch-up support for pupils whose education has been disrupted by the pandemic.

He said: “The Prime Minister committed on Wednesday to a programme of catch-up into the next financial year. But there was little detail provided about these plans and it is clear that this support will need to be substantial in order to address the scale of the challenge which lies ahead.

“We would urge the government to ensure that all extra funding goes directly to schools and colleges rather than money being channelled through the convoluted mechanism of a subsidised tutoring scheme.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said the Government recognised the impact of school closures on children, particularly the disadvantaged, and was committed to reopening schools as soon as possible.

She added: “In June last year we launched the £1 billion Covid Catch Up Fund, and we will provide a further £300 million to early years, schools and colleges for tutoring, building on the existing National Tutoring Programme which is aimed at providing extra tuition to the most disadvantaged pupils.”