Impact of school closures and subsequent support strategies on attainment and socio-emotional wellbeing
28 January 2021
On 20 March 2020, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, schools in England closed to all pupils apart from vulnerable pupils and the children of keyworkers. Early studies predicted a ‘learning loss’ both in terms a ‘gap’ in pupils’ learning related to the disruption in schools (i.e. the ‘Covid-19 gap’) and a widening of the education attainment gap between pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers (i.e. the ‘disadvantage gap’).
This study, conducted by statisticians and assessment researchers at NFER, estimates the impact on attainment of pupils in Key Stage 1 in England following this disruption to schooling during the spring and summer terms of 2020. It also aims to determine the parts of the curriculum that children are struggling with. In addition, another strand of the work looks at the development of pupils’ social skills and wellbeing. The study is funded by the Education Endowment Foundation.
This interim paper is the first in a series of papers in this study, and provides the first insight into two of the study’s research questions:
- To what extent has pupils’ attainment in reading and maths been impacted by school closures in 2020? This is referred to as the ‘Covid-19 gap’.
- Were children eligible for free school meals (FSM) disproportionately affected? This is referred to as the ‘disadvantage gap’ in attainment between pupils who are eligible and not eligible for free school meals.
The results in this first paper focus on assessments taken by Year 2 pupils (i.e. pupils aged 6 – 7) in autumn term 2020 sat by nearly 6000 pupils in 168 schools.
- Year 2 pupils’ attainment in reading was significantly  lower in autumn 2020 compared to a standardised sample from 2017; representing a Covid-19 gap of around two months’ progress.
- Year 2 pupils’ attainment in mathematics was significantly lower in autumn 2020 compared to a standardised sample from 2017; representing a Covid-19 gap of around two months’ progress.
- The disadvantage gap in reading is around seven months’ progress, which represents a widening as compared to Key Stage 1 in 2019.
- The disadvantage gap in mathematics is around seven months’ progress, which represents a widening as compared to Key Stage 1 in 2019.
 Where we use the word ‘significantly’ to refer to the Covid-19 gap, we mean that the confidence interval does not overlap 100 i.e. the difference can be regarded as statistically significant.
The full paper can be found here [add link], including a discussion of the methods and limitations of the study.
The research team will conduct further data sweeps in the spring and summer terms, and will publish further papers in this series. NFER are now conducting more granular analysis on performance on individual questions to provide diagnostic information for teachers.