The Impact of Covid-19 on pupil attainment - a summary of research evidence

Liz Twist, Emily Jones and Oscar Treleaven

16 March 2022

The pandemic and associated partial school closures have led to considerable disruption to the learning of pupils in England. In order to inform policy- and decision-making, a range of studies have used standardised test data to estimate the impact of this disruption on pupils’ learning. This primarily involves comparing attainment during the pandemic with attainment prior to the pandemic. We have described the general trends in the data across several studies to investigate the impact of Covid-19 on educational attainment by:

  • pupil age
  • disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupil status
  • prior pupil attainment levels
  • school subject (reading and mathematics).

Key Findings

  • Pupil age: For primary-aged pupils it is clear that all year groups performed at a lower level than expected in Autumn 2020 in both reading and mathematics. By Spring 2021, there was a further drop in attainment, especially in the younger year groups, but by the Summer of 2021 all years saw the Covid gap become narrower. The negative impacts of the pandemic were greatest on reading in Key Stage 1 (and in Year 1 in particular), whilst in Key Stage 2 it was mathematics attainment that was affected the most and which also showed slower recovery than reading. There is a lack of evidence concerning the impact of the pandemic on secondary-aged pupils, in particular Key Stage 3.
  • Disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupil status: It should be remembered that the disadvantage gap prior to Covid was at least twice as large as any impact of Covid on pupil attainment. However, the initial lockdown had a greater impact on disadvantaged pupils than non-disadvantaged pupils and the disadvantage gap widened by Autumn 2020. Since the initial period of school closures there is no consistent evidence of a further widening of this gap, suggesting that disadvantaged pupils are recovering at around the same rate as non-disadvantaged pupils.
  • Prior pupil attainment levels: The distribution of attainment has shifted as a result of the disruption caused by Covid-19. Summer 2021 data shows that more pupils, particularly those in the younger age groups, are scoring low marks on reading assessments, whilst in mathematics fewer pupils are getting high scores in Key Stage 2.
  • School subject: The impact on achievement is, on average, similar in both reading and mathematics. The two periods of partial school closures are associated with less progress in both subjects although a period of some recovery follows each. However, as noted above, there are different patterns by age. The impact on progress in reading has been greatest in Years 1 and 2 while the impact of the pandemic on mathematics progress is greater across Key Stage 2.

Related Titles

Youngest primary school pupils’ reading development most affected by Covid shutdowns - Press Release

Impact of school closures and subsequent support strategies on attainment in Key Stage 1 - Publication