Report finds low pre-pandemic levels of training for England’s primary school teachers in the use of technology: TIMSS 2019

Press Release

Tuesday 8 December 2020

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has conducted new analysis of the Year 5 data collected from the 2019 cycle of TIMSS [1] released today 8 December 2020.

NFER found that prior to schools around the world closing because of COVID-19, 82.5 per cent of pupils [2] in England lacked a teacher who had received professional development in incorporating technology into maths instruction.

NFER’s analysis finds that at just 17.5 per cent, teachers in England were well below the international average of 35 per cent for having received professional development of incorporating technology into maths lessons.

This absence of training meant that England’s primary pupils were more likely to be receiving remote learning provision from a teacher who had had no formal CPD in incorporating technology into maths teaching, which could compound the issue of potential learning loss. Such training could have helped a more effective transition to online learning during the pandemic.

Moving forward, NFER calls for the professional development in the use of technology, for teachers in England, to be a high priority for policy makers. Ensuring that teachers are skilled in technology incorporation will help to increase the viability of delivering remote learning and reduce barriers to engaging with learning online. This will help to build an education sector that is much more flexible and resilient to future shocks.

Today’s report How prepared were primary teachers and pupils in England for the shift to online learning? Insights from TIMSS 2019 uses data from the 2019 Trends in Mathematics and Sciences Study (TIMSS), collected before the onset of the pandemic.

The full report covers two themes: global differences in familiarity with computers and digital skills, and teacher preparedness to incorporate technology into instruction.  One of the recommendations is that particular attention is given to addressing the technology gaps for schools serving the most disadvantaged pupils.

Key findings are as follows:

  • England is below the international average for measures including computer availability and use, and teacher professional development in technology incorporation.
  • Only 17.5% of pupils who participated in the study had teachers who had participated in professional development in integrating technology into maths instruction. England was below the international average.
  • Year 5 pupils in more affluent schools in England were much more likely to have access to computers and exposure to their use in learning.
  • Compared with pupils from more disadvantaged schools, affluent pupils were 34 percentage points more likely to have computers available for science lessons and 57 percentage points more likely to have teachers who used computers to support learning in maths lessons at least once per week.
  • The socioeconomic gap is not reflected in teacher training. A similar percentage of pupils from more affluent and more disadvantaged schools in England had teachers that had previously received professional development in integrating technology into maths instruction.

Angela Donkin, Chief Social Scientist from NFER commented: “The onset of COVID-19 has brought the lack of focus on training teachers to incorporate technology into their teaching into sharp relief, and it’s concerning that we are lagging behind some of our international peers in this area.

“Globally, the impact of learning loss as a result of school closures is expected to be significant. These learning losses may contribute to socio-economic gaps in pupil performance, where the abrupt shift to online learning exposed digital inequities in global education systems.

“Our previous research into the impact of the pandemic on schools (4) showed that while it’s vital that all students should have access to appropriate technology in their homes, it’s equally important that teachers are fully trained to deliver online learning. Especially if we are to minimise the disruption to our pupils’ education, and address the increasing challenges due to the extended impact of the pandemic.” 

The report made three broad recommendations for policy-makers:

  1. Particular attention should be given to technology gaps for schools serving the most disadvantaged pupils. These gaps should be investigated further and targeted support provided to schools in using technology in evidence-informed ways.
  2. More needs to be done to understand how technology can be most effectively incorporated into teaching practice, learning lessons from other high performing countries.
  3. Professional development in technology incorporation is urgently needed for teachers.

The full national reports for TIMSS can be found here.


[1] Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)

[2] Proportion of teachers who had not received training in ICT incorporation in the two years prior to the survey,