New analysis published today (14 Jul) by the National Foundation for Educational Research (@TheNFER) has highlighted differences in the cost of lost learning during the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for certain year groups to receive additional targeted support next academic year.

The report, Home learning during Covid-19: findings from the Understanding Society longitudinal study, is based on responses from the parents of over 4,000 school-aged children in the UK who took part in the Understanding Society Covid-19 survey, carried out in late April 2020.

Almost all pupils received some remote learning tasks from their teachers. However, almost half of exam-year pupils in Years 11 and 13 were not provided with work by their school (due to the cancellation of this summer’s exams). This means that, come September, many of these pupils will not have engaged with education for up to six months. A return to education may therefore prove challenging for many, especially if it is in a new educational setting, and targeted support may be needed.

The report also estimates that at least one in twenty pupils lives with a clinically extremely vulnerable adult, while other pupils (unmeasured in this survey) will themselves have underlying conditions that put them at increased risk from Covid-19. It cautions that for the small number of children from very high risk households, imposing fines for non-attendance at school in September may be counterproductive.

More effective approaches could be to delay the enforcement of fines until community infection rates are lower and/or facilitate additional safety measures for these children, while also recognising that remote or hybrid learning may need to continue for some.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Almost all pupils received some remote learning tasks from their teachers. However, almost half of exam-year pupils in Years 11 and 13 were not provided with work by their school
  • Just over half of all pupils taught remotely did not usually have any online lessons, defined as live or real-time lessons. Offline provision, such as worksheets or recorded video, was much more common than ‘live’ online lessons.
  • Most pupils spent less than three hours per day on remote learning activities. Pupils from higher-income households, and whose parents had higher levels of education, spent the most time on school work at home, particularly at secondary level.
  • In contrast, parents from the lowest-income households spent the most amount of time supporting their child with school work.Parental education was largely unrelated to the amount of time parents spent helping with their child’s school work. Parents of primary school children spent more time providing support than parents of secondary school children.
  • At least five per cent of pupils live with an adult who is at very high risk (clinically extremely vulnerable) of serious illness related to Covid-19. A further 19 per cent live with an adult who is at high risk (clinically vulnerable). These estimates exclude any non-responding adults or any pupils who might themselves be at increased risk, meaning the true percentages are likely to be higher.
  • Pupils from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background (defined as those with at least one BAME parent) and those whose households fall into the lowest income quartile are significantly more likely to live with an at-risk adult.

Sector Response

Jack Worth, Lead Economist at NFER, said:

“Today’s report shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the education of all pupils, and highlights that the costs have been greater for some more than others. Our findings further support the growing evidence base highlighting the risk of the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers widening as a result of this pandemic.

“It is particularly concerning that so many Year 11 and 13 pupils spent little or no time engaging in learning activities. From September, these young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, will need more support than ever after what will have been a six-month gap in their education. We welcome the Government’s significant catch-up funding, but pupils who are set to start college or sixth form in September were not included in the package. It’s crucial that some support is considered to ensure these young people, whatever their background, have the same opportunities as other children."

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

"Since March schools have been in uncharted territory and they have been doing all they can to support pupils. Heads and teachers are all too aware of the disparity in home learning and the lack of engagement that remote learning can foster. For some families this is exacerbated by the impact of poverty and unsuitable home environments such as lack of space and IT equipment. The Government's effort to meet IT need has been sluggish and inconsistent.

"The NEU has spoken up for disadvantaged children throughout this crisis.  According to IPPR, there will be 200,000 more children living in poverty by Christmas, and the gap between disadvantage children and their peers was prevalent before Covid-19. It is now time for the Government to ensure no child is left behind by ending the scourge of child poverty."

"We agree that fining parents in September for non-attendance is not a solution. As the report highlights, Black children are more likely to live within a household with an at-risk adult. In many cases fining parents will only alienate the very pupils that schools want to reach out to the most. Blanket policies of full attendance are not fair or helpful and are the wrong message to send out from Government to parents who are trying to act responsibly during a pandemic.

"The Department for Education has displayed a curious silence around how schools are supposed to be able to provide enough targeted support, and address the amount of learning time missed. We think Government could be doing much more to make targeted support possible, which requires small class sizes and groups, additional teachers and a flexible curriculum. All of this is essential as many students will need much more individual attention on their return.

"Keeping a broad and balanced curriculum will be essential from September. It is proven to be the case that a wide range of experiences at school is key to motivating and engaging disadvantaged pupils. We must build back better for the sake of all young people."

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