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Some pupils in England have lost more than two months of learning – report

By Catherine Wylie

Some secondary school children have lost more than two months’ worth of learning, according to a UK Government report which states that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers may have widened in the pandemic.

Researchers said the findings show that pupil catch-up interventions need to be “heavily targeted at the poorest pupils”.

The research commissioned by the UK Department for Education to understand the progress pupils make in the 2020 to 2021 academic year found that all year groups in England have experienced a learning loss in reading, ranging from 1.6 months to two months.

The learning losses in mathematics were greater, with primary school learning losses averaging just over three months, but due to small sample sizes it was not possible to provide an estimate for secondary schools.

The research, carried out by Education Policy Institute (EPI) and Renaissance Learning, found all regions have, on average, experienced learning losses in reading, though the differences between regions are relatively small.

Researchers found schools with high levels of disadvantage have experienced higher levels of loss than other schools particularly in secondary – 2.2 months in schools with high free school meal eligibility and 1.5 months in schools with low free school meal eligibility.

The analysis is based on the results achieved by pupils in the first half of the 2020/21 autumn term, up to and including October 25 2020 in comparison to pupils in previous years.

The interim findings are based on more than 400,000 reading and maths assessments.

Star Assessments are frequently used by schools as their baseline assessment for reading and maths.

The report said that at this stage it is not possible to break down results by pupil characteristics, or to model the progress typically made in Star Assessments by different pupil groups, but this will be possible when the data is matched with information held in the National Pupil Database and will be included in a second report.

The report said: “We will develop our models to account for these different rates of progress made by different pupil groups.

“That data will also enable us to assess the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic on the gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

“Consistent with other studies, the initial analysis presented in this report suggests that that gap may have widened as a result of the pandemic.”

Jon Andrews, head of analysis at the EPI, said it is known that all pupils have encountered “huge disruption” to their education, but that so far there has only been limited evidence detailing how much learning they have lost.

He said: “Our analysis shows that learning losses in schools that have many pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were around 50% higher than those schools with very few pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“This underlines the need for pupil catch-up interventions to be heavily targeted at the poorest pupils.”

Natalie Perera, chief executive of the EPI, said: “These new findings show that considerable losses in pupil progress were already evident by the first half of the autumn term, with pupils in primary schools, secondary schools and in different parts of the country all seeing their academic progress penalised by the pandemic.

“Since then, pupils have faced further disruption as a result of this period of school closures.

“While teachers, parents and pupils have been going to great lengths to adapt to remote learning, the real concern now is that these learning losses could increase.

“We need to continue to look at how we can support all pupils through effective catch-up programmes, but particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, whose education has taken the biggest hit from the pandemic.

“Policies need to be well-targeted to account for the different amounts of learning loss among pupils.”

Meanwhile, Dr Patrick Roach, UK general secretary of the NASUWT, said education recovery “cannot be done on the cheap or at the expense of teachers and support staff in schools who are already working around the clock”.

He said: “Education recovery cannot be based on trying to squeeze more out of an education system and an education workforce that is already at breaking point as they continue to deal with the unprecedented and exceptional challenges of the pandemic.

“The [UK] Government must now commit to recruiting substantially more staff to provide an ambitious programme that will deliver the education recovery that all children and young people deserve.”


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