Covid-19: Cost of missed learning has been greater for some year groups, new analysis warns

Press Release

Tuesday 14 July 2020

New analysis published today by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has highlighted differences in the cost of lost learning during the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for certain year groups to receive additional targeted support next academic year.

The report, Home learning during Covid-19: findings from the Understanding Society longitudinal study, is based on responses from the parents of over 4,000 school-aged children in the UK who took part in the Understanding Society Covid-19 survey, carried out in late April 2020.

Almost all pupils received some remote learning tasks from their teachers. However, almost half of exam-year pupils in Years 11 and 13 were not provided with work by their school (due to the cancellation of this summer’s exams). This means that, come September, many of these pupils will not have engaged with education for up to six months. A return to education may therefore prove challenging for many, especially if it is in a new educational setting, and targeted support may be needed.

The report also estimates that at least one in twenty pupils lives with a clinically extremely vulnerable adult, while other pupils (unmeasured in this survey) will themselves have underlying conditions that put them at increased risk from Covid-19. It cautions that for the small number of children from very high risk households, imposing fines for non-attendance at school in September may be counterproductive. More effective approaches could be to delay the enforcement of fines until community infection rates are lower and/or facilitate additional safety measures for these children, while also recognising that remote or hybrid learning may need to continue for some.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Almost all pupils received some remote learning tasks from their teachers. However, almost half of exam-year pupils in Years 11 and 13 were not provided with work by their school
  • Just over half of all pupils taught remotely did not usually have any online lessons, defined as live or real-time lessons. Offline provision, such as worksheets or recorded video, was much more common than ‘live’ online lessons.
  • Most pupils spent less than three hours per day on remote learning activities. Pupils from higher-income households, and whose parents had higher levels of education, spent the most time on school work at home, particularly at secondary level.
  • In contrast, parents from the lowest-income households spent the most amount of time supporting their child with school work. Parental education was largely unrelated to the amount of time parents spent helping with their child’s school work. Parents of primary school children spent more time providing support than parents of secondary school children.
  • At least five per cent of pupils live with an adult who is at very high risk (clinically extremely vulnerable) of serious illness related to Covid-19. A further 19 per cent live with an adult who is at high risk (clinically vulnerable). These estimates exclude any non-responding adults or any pupils who might themselves be at increased risk, meaning the true percentages are likely to be higher.
  • Pupils from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background (defined as those with at least one BAME parent) and those whose households fall into the lowest income quartile are significantly more likely to live with an at-risk adult.

Speaking about the findings:

Jack Worth, Lead Economist at NFER, said: “Today’s report shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the education of all pupils, and highlights that the costs have been greater for some more than others. Our findings further support the growing evidence base highlighting the risk of the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers widening as a result of this pandemic.

“It is particularly concerning that so many Year 11 and 13 pupils spent little or no time engaging in learning activities. From September, these young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, will need more support than ever after what will have been a six-month gap in their education. We welcome the Government’s significant catch-up funding, but pupils who are set to start college or sixth form in September were not included in the package. It’s crucial that some support is considered to ensure these young people, whatever their background, have the same opportunities as other children."

Please direct all media enquiries to: Sundip Gill (s.gill@nfer.ac.uk / 01753 637218) or Richard Faulkner (r.faulkner@nfer.ac.uk / 07852 359029)