Report shows struggles of disadvantaged pupils in lockdown

Trevor Marshallsea, PA

Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds found remote learning significantly more difficult than other students last year, a new study has found.

Non-profit body ImpactEd monitored 62,000 pupils in England through eight months of 2020 to assess the effect of online schooling during the pandemic.

Their report, Lockdown Lessons, found that among pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds – those at schools eligible for the Government’s Pupil Premium grant – only 45% said they understood their schoolwork in lockdown, compared with 57% among other students.

The survey assessed pupils using a range of measures including their home learning environment, their metacognitive strategies and their learning habits, in order to determine a “Covid-19 Learning Index”.

It found pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds gave their home environment a 6% lower score than other students and reported lower scores on metacognition, leading to a sharply lower Covid-19 Learning Index score of 3.21 compared with 3.35 from non-disadvantaged pupils.

Royal High School
Among its findings the report showed pupils in years 10 and 11 were most disadvantaged by online learning, and that girls suffered greater anxiety than boys about returning to school (Ben Birchall/PA)

“Across all of these learning measures, and those associated with wellbeing, students eligible for Pupil Premium reported worse than average outcomes,” the report said, adding disadvantaged students had also scored 5% lower on questions about their resilience.

The report’s authors recommended that “post-lockdown support should be carefully evaluated to ensure that pupils who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are benefiting”.

“If interventions are not having the desired effect, they should be stopped,” the report said.

The survey also found pupil wellbeing overall across the first period of lockdown was perhaps not as adversely affected as feared.

Using a 35-point scale, the average score for wellbeing was 23.8 in May, 24.1 in June, and 24.0 in July, compared with a pre-lockdown score of 23.6.

Pupils in years 10 and 11 reported the greatest challenges with motivation, the survey said, a condition which did not improve after lockdown.

A quarter of KS4 pupils complained they could not attain help from their families if they had questions about their schoolwork.

Furthermore, 40% of these students said they did not have a routine which helped them learn, according to the study, which also found pupils who exercised regularly were more likely – 58% to 33% – to report they had developed a positive learning routine.

The report also found nearly twice as many girls than boys said they were were worried about returning to school, and that girls felt more anxiety while in school, with levels 10% higher than boys.

“Schools should consider whether girls may need more support in managing their anxiety,” the report recommended. “For both girls and boys, consistent routines for learning and opportunities for teacher-pupil interaction were seen as beneficial for wellbeing.”

Schools had also identified a pronounced risk from the pandemic of “lost” children, finding students who struggled the most in lockdown were not always those previously thought vulnerable.

The impact of lockdown was also found to have varied significantly across different contexts, with the proportion of pupils saying they were excited about return to school varying from 16% to 81%.

“Schools aiming to understand pupil learning and wellbeing needs should look for manageable ways to gather data from pupils themselves as well as from teacher observation,” the report said.

“Where possible, they should use validated measures to reliably identify pupils who struggled during lockdown and to assess the impact of support.”

Writing in the report, Dame Sue John, the executive director of prominent education charity Challenge Partners, said the study showed “the need to deliver impactful interventions to support pupils who have had such a fragmented year feels pressing and urgent”.

She added: “It has never been more important to find ways to understand how pupils have responded to each new lockdown, each exam cancelled, and each enforced isolation.

“But the difficulty of doing so has been dramatically heightened. Many pupils have not seen their teachers for weeks at a time. All this, while the learning and wellbeing struggles that our children face are often hidden from view.”

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