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RESEARCH CONFIRMS ACHIEVEMENT IN READING AND MATHS REMAINS SIGNIFICANTLY LOWER, AND THE DISADVANTAGED GAP REMAINS WIDER, THAN WOULD BE EXPECTED IN NORMAL TIMES

Today (2 Jul) the Education Endowment Foundation (@EducEndowFoundn) has published further findings from an ongoing study, by the National Foundation for Educational Research (@TheNFER), examining the impact of Covid-19 related disruption on the attainment of Key Stage 1 pupils.

NFER’s analysis suggests Year 2 children still have significantly lower achievement in both reading and maths, and that the disadvantage gap remains wider than expected. 

The study used data from reading and maths assessments taken by more than 10,000 Key Stage 1 pupils (5-7 year olds) from 156 representative schools in the spring term of 2021. Their attainment was compared with that of a representative sample of Year 1 and 2 children in spring 2019.

The first set of findings from this study, based on assessments taken by Year 2 pupils in autumn 2020, was published in January 2021. Today’s study looks at pupils’ attainment after the second period of partial school closures in 2021. NFER will be conducting further analysis of any changes over the course of the academic year – particularly how individual children have fared – but these interim findings suggest that some children (especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds) may have fallen further behind since the autumn term.

Year 1 pupils made on average three months’ less progress for both reading and mathematics compared with the cohort of spring 2019. Year 2 pupils made three months’ less progress for reading compared with the cohort of spring 2019, and around two months’ less progress for mathematics.

The report also shows there is a substantial attainment gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils. In Year 1, there is a gap of around seven months for both reading and mathematics.

In Year 2, the findings indicate that the disadvantage gap is around seven months for reading and eight months for mathematics. The gap is wider in both subjects for this year group compared to 2019, when it was estimated to be six months’ progress.

Diagnostic information from the assessments that has been published alongside the report provides a more detailed breakdown of the curriculum areas. Pupils’ vocabulary appears to be a relative strength and their aural comprehension was the area least affected. Certain areas of the mathematics curriculum appear to be secure, such as measures, addition and subtraction, and pupils generally performed very well when asked questions in a standard way, although they did find unconventional formats more challenging.

This analysis suggests that, broadly, the areas that children in both year groups found difficult were the same as those the 2019 cohort struggled with, such as making inferences from complex texts and fraction questions.

Full analysis of the 2020 cohort’s progress and attainment this academic year will be carried out prior to the publication of a final report expected in December. This will also include findings from a final data sweep conducted during the summer term.

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

Whilst these findings are concerning, each new piece of research can help us to better understand the scale of the challenge facing our teachers.

“Important work is already being done in schools to ensure that children’s progress is brought back on track and their wellbeing is restored in the wake of the pandemic.

“However, schools need ongoing access to resources which will allow them to perform at their best, and to ensure that pupils surpass “recovery” to achieve the full extent of their potential.”

Dr Ben Styles, head of the National Foundation for Educational Research’s Education Trials Unit said:

“The last few months have been hugely difficult for teachers, school leaders, parents and pupils.

“We hope this study – both the attainment analysis and the diagnostics – offers valuable information to teachers as they continue to help pupils recover from missed learning and support their overall wellbeing.

“It reinforces the importance of a sustained and properly-funded focus on activities to enable children to recover the learning they have missed.”

Testing was carried out by schools already using NFER’s tests. The spring 2021 distribution of standardised scores was weighted to represent schools in England by a school-level attainment measure and compared with the 2019 standardisation sample. Differences in mean standardised score points were converted into effect sizes and mapped onto months’ progress using EEF’s standard conversion table.

Commenting on Impact of school closures and subsequent support strategies on 

attainment and socio-emotional wellbeing in Key Stage 1, new research published by the Education Endowment Foundation, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

“These reports show, once again, how much we need a long term, properly thought-through and resourced plan for education recovery. A gap of seven months progress in reading and mathematics will not be closed overnight, nor by a strategy based solely on an underfunded and ill-thought-out tutoring programme. 

“The evidence and guidance for reading shows clearly that what pupils have missed is opportunities for meaningful engagement with stories, and reading for understanding. Teachers will need to carry out their own assessments to understand exactly what support their pupils need in these areas. This is far more likely to help pupils to improve their reading and writing than the statutory test of nonsense words that government is imposing in the autumn term.” 

Commenting as the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today (Friday 1st July 2021) publish new findings from a study examining the impact of Covid-19 related disruption on Key Stage 1 pupils’ attainment, Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union, NAHT, said:

“This is important new research that illuminates the deep impact of Covid on children’s learning. Whilst the government has prevaricated and dithered, teachers and leaders have just got on with the job, working tirelessly to help all children and young people recover from the impacts of the pandemic. Yet they need proper support to do so.

“The government declined to fund Sir Kevan Collins’ suggested catch-up plan on the grounds that it was too expensive. He, and almost every other education expert worthy of the name, has pointed out that the real expense is not investing in the education of those children who have lost months of learning due to the pandemic.

“NAHT has produced a blueprint for recovery, which makes seven recommendations for government, including greater investment across the entire school system.”

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