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A-Level Results: Sunak must apologise to students for 28 million days of lost learning

students doing exam

The Liberal Democrats are demanding that Rishi Sunak apologise to students who miss out on their expected grades as analysis by the party reveals that students getting their A-Level, T-Level and BTEC results on Thursday lost 28 million days of learning during the pandemic.

Results will fall sharply compared to both 2022 and 2021 as the Government has said that this year’s exam results will be graded as if the pandemic had never happened. This is despite this being the first time the majority of this A-Level cohort will have sat formal exams, as their GCSE results in 2021 were set by classroom teachers.

Researchers at the London School of Economics estimated that, on average, England’s pupils each lost 61 days of learning during the pandemic. This was due to a mix of school closures, pupil absences and problems learning online.

This year’s A-Level students returned to school a month earlier than other year groups during the first lockdown. However, the party estimates that these 580,000 pupils still each lost 48.5 days of learning on average. In total, more than 28.1 million days were lost.

The Liberal Democrats have repeatedly slammed the Conservatives for failing to invest in COVID catch-up programmes. When he was Chancellor, Rishi Sunak ignored the Government’s former education recovery tsar, Kevan Collins, who said that £15 billion was needed to support pupils to catch up with their lost learning. Instead, the Government spent less than a third of that amount.

Lib Dem education spokesperson Munira Wilson MP has demanded that Rishi Sunak apologise to students who miss out on their expected grades this week for letting them down by refusing to invest in COVID catch-up programmes.

Meanwhile, less than half of school leaders will sign up for the Government’s National Tutoring Programme next year. Most of these are quitting the programme because they say that their school can no longer afford it.

At their conference in Bournemouth next month, Liberal Democrats will call on the Government to reverse the real-terms cuts to the Pupil Premium and to extend the policy to colleges. This will boost support for pupils who have fallen behind with their learning.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson MP said:

“Rishi Sunak needs to apologise to every single young person who falls short of their expected grades and miss out on the university places they deserve this week.

“This cohort of students should be proud of the results they got in the face of huge, unprecedented challenges. They achieved this despite Conservative Ministers who ignored the scale of the chaos that the pandemic caused to children’s studies.

“Liberal Democrats believe that education is an investment in our children’s futures. The Government should reverse the cuts to the Pupil Premium and extend it to our colleges. 

“No child should be left behind or forced to miss out on a university place because of this Government’s incompetence.”


In April 2020, November 2020 and January 2021, the Understanding Society survey asked parents questions about school attendance and home-schooling.

Using this data, LSE researchers estimated the “learning losses” for the average school pupil in each school term. They define this as “the percentage of normal schooling hours lost per day when compared with a 6-hour school day for 5 days a week.” (p. 7)

These losses result from school closures, pupil absences and how effectively pupils were able to learn at home.

The researchers then multiply the learning loss by the length of each school term to calculate the number of days of lost learning that each pupil had.

The learning losses for England were:

TermAverage learning LossesTerm length (days)Average number of days of lost learning
Summer Term 202057%7140
Autumn Term 202011%738
Spring Term 202128%4613

The Liberal Democrats have adjusted this analysis to reflect that on 15 June 2020, Year 10 pupils returned to classrooms. This means they received 28 more days of in-person teaching than other secondary-aged pupils during Summer 2020. This year group is the same one receiving their exam results on Thursday.

For these 28 days, the party has used the average learning loss during Autumn Term 2020 as a proxy measure. This is because, during that term, schools largely remained open, but there was still some learning loss as pupil absence rates remained higher (e.g. due to the need to self-isolate).

The party’s results are below:

TermAverage learning LossesTerm length (days)Average number of days of lost learning
Summer Term 2020 (before 15 June)57%4324.5
Summer Term 2020 (on & after 15 June)11%283
Autumn Term 202011%738
Spring Term 202128%4613
TOTAL 19048.5

In 2020/21 (when today’s A-Level students were in Year 11), there were 580,272 pupils aged 15 on 31 August 2020 who were studying at state-funded secondary, special and alternative provision schools and non-maintained special schools. (Source)

Multiplying this figure by 48.5 gives a total number of lost learning days of 28.14 million.

Other statistics cited

Education Select Committee: by February 2022, the Government had allocated £4.9 billion to catch-up programmes in schools and colleges (Source, p. 13).

National Foundation for Educational Research: according to a 2023 survey, 51% of school leaders are likely to have dropped out of the National Tutoring Programme by the end of 2022/23 (Source, section 3.1). Among school leaders who had already dropped out of the NTP or were planning to, 55% cited the reduced government subsidy for the programme as one of the main reasons for their decision (section 3.2).

NTP funding can be used to cover the cost of up to 60% of the total a school spends on tutoring. Schools are expected to fund the remaining 40% using Pupil Premium or other core school budgets (Source).

On Sunday 24 September, Liberal Democrat members will debate their updated policy platform for schools and colleges, “Investing in our children’s future”, at their party conference in Bournemouth.

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