Impact of Covid-19-related school closures in Key Stage 1 on attainment and social skills of pupils in Year 2 and Year 3 in academic year 2021/2022

Rebecca Wheater, Susan Rose, Robert Ager, Jose Liht, Ben Styles and Liz Twist

24 November 2022

Research report on the EEF website

This longitudinal study follows a group of the youngest school-aged children during the Covid-19 pandemic to understand the long-term impact of Covid and school closures on pupils’ attainment and social skills. The study builds on findings from 2021. In this report, we explore the attainment of Year 1 and Year 2 pupils in spring 2022.

We collected data from 6,029 pupils in 81 schools. In addition to measuring reading and maths attainment, the study also included a teacher measure of pupils’ social skills for a sub-sample of twelve pupils within each year group in each school. Contextual information about school practices and any catch-up activities being undertaken with the pupils were also collected through a survey completed by 67 headteachers.

Key Findings

  • Year 2 pupils were three months behind in reading compared with where they would be expected to be before the pandemic. However, many children had caught up. In mathematics, children in Year 2 had caught up compared with children before the pandemic. In reading and mathematics, children in Year 3 had caught up compared with pupils before the pandemic.
  • The disadvantage gap that widened in 2021 in this cohort has not widened further, but neither has it narrowed; remaining wider than at pre-2020 levels. In terms of progress, in Year 2, the gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and those not eligible was around six months for reading and around five months for maths. In Year 3, there was a difference of around nine months for reading and around eight months for maths.
  • We found a large increase in very low attainers in reading and to a lesser extent in mathematics compared with before the pandemic. This increase represents a substantial challenge for teachers across the country, particularly for teachers in schools in disadvantaged areas with higher proportions of lower performing pupils.
  • The wellbeing of pupils was an area of increased focus during 2021/2022. Headteachers continued to be concerned about Year 2 and Year 3 pupils’ wellbeing.
  • Teachers report that the additional support they are providing has contributed to increased workload. This has been alongside high levels of staff absence.
  • Our evidence suggests that catch-up support should focus on very low attaining pupils and closing the disadvantage gap. It is essential that schools are both adequately funded and supported to ensure that the required long-term support can be delivered.