Two in five pupils ‘failed to get minimum learning time during Covid closures’

Researchers say catch-up policies need to be targeted at poorer pupils to close “educational inequalities" that grew during Covid. Credit: PA

The government’s minimum guidelines for remote learning time was not met by two in five pupils during school closures earlier this year, a report suggests.

A quarter of parents believe it will take their child at least a year to catch up on lost learning, an Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report says, warning schools could face challenges with pupils returning to classrooms this month.

Researchers say catch-up policies need to be targeted at poorer pupils to close “educational inequalities that have grown so much wider” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Limited support and unequal provision for self-isolating students during the autumn term in 2020 – when schools were open but disrupted – also worked against efforts to address lost learning, they add.

Overall, inequalities in home-learning experiences in England improved over the course of the pandemic, according to the IFS report, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

Poorer families were more likely to be offered online classes by their schools, and to have the technology at home to access them, during the second period of school closures compared with the first lockdown.

But overall around 40% of children did not meet the government’s expected minimum daily amount of time spent on remote learning even in the second round of school closures, according to the report which looked at survey data collected between March 2020 and March 2021.

After a year of Covid-related disruption to education, 25% of parents think their child will take at least a school year to catch up on lost learning and 7% think that their child will never catch up.

While the majority of parents support tutoring to help children, the poorest families were the least likely to accept an offer of catch-up sessions.

Among the poorest fifth of families, 36% of pupils had been offered tutoring by March 2021, but nearly a third of these chose not to take it up – by contrast, while a similar share of those in the most affluent families had been offered tutoring, only one in seven of them refused.

During the autumn term – when schools were open – poorer pupils spent longer in self-isolation and had less access to school provisions when doing so, the report suggests.

While 43% of secondary school pupils in the richest fifth of families had access to online classes while self-isolating, just 35% of their peers in the most disadvantaged homes had access to online lessons.

Adam Salisbury, a research economist at IFS and an author of the report, said: “Thanks to the efforts of teachers, schools, families and policymakers, the second round of remote learning went far better than the first time around.

“But even with this welcome improvement, many children still struggled with home learning; around four in 10 pupils did not meet the government’s minimum guidelines for learning time during the second round of school closures".

Angus Phimister, a research economist at IFS and an author of the report, added: “Catch-up policies need to be carefully designed to be taken up by poorer pupils if they are to have any chance of putting a dent in the educational inequalities that have grown so much wider during the pandemic”.

In June, the Department for Education (DfE) announced an additional £1.4 billion of funding, on top of the £1.7 billion already pledged for catch-up, to help pupils in England make up for lost learning.

The programme included £1 billion to support 15-hour tutoring courses for children.

A DfE spokesperson said: “The government acted swiftly to minimise the impact on children’s education and wellbeing and help keep pupils in face-to-face education as much as possible.

“To ensure that pupils could continue to receive their education at home, we provided more than 1.3 million laptops and tablets to disadvantaged students, funded Oak National Academy to provide video lessons, and set clear expectations for remote education quality, including a minimum number of hours per day.

“We have also committed to an ambitious, long-term education recovery plan, investing over £3 billion and significantly expanding our tutoring programme to support children and young people to make up for education lost during the pandemic”.

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