Schoolchildren missed out on a third of learning during coronavirus pandemic

7 July 2021, 00:02

A new study has shown that children in the UK may have missed up to 66 days of learning, out of a school year of 190 days
A new study has shown that children in the UK may have missed up to 66 days of learning, out of a school year of 190 days. Picture: PA

By Daisy Stephens

Pupils across the UK have lost out on a third of their learning time amid Covid-19 even when home lessons are taken into account, a study suggests.

Researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the University of Exeter found that pupils in England on average lost 61 days of schooling between March 2020 and April 2021, out of the usual school year of 190 days.

"Even a few days extra learning loss can have a large impact on educational achievement and life outcomes, and these are big losses of around 60-65 days,” said Stephen Machin, LSE professor, CEP director and co-author of the report.

Researchers calculated the education loss by assessing school opening and closure dates, official school attendance figures, and data on daily learning rates - combining home and classroom learning - reported by parents.

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However the study also showed there were variations in the learning loss.

The research found that the poorest pupils generally suffered larger learning losses than their richer peers, although more affluent pupils lost a greater proportion of their total learning loss in the second round of school closures than poorer students did.

"Learning losses suffered during the pandemic are manifested in stark gaps in attainment between children from poorer backgrounds and their more privileged counterparts, which is likely to cause a significant decline in social mobility for younger generations,” said Mr Machin.

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There are also variations across the UK.

Larger average losses occurred in Scotland and Wales, whilst pupils in Northern Ireland lost the same as England.

"Our analysis reveals that pupils' learning loss varies between the four home nations, partly due to historical differences in school term times and partly as a result of school closure policies,” said Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter and report co-author.

"This shows that ministers can make a difference - but quick action is needed."

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The findings come after the latest Government figures show that more than 640,000 pupils in England were not in school due to Covid-19 last week - up from around 384,000 the week before.

Current rules state that children have to self-isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble - which can be an entire year group at secondary school - tests positive for coronavirus.

But updated Department for Education (DfE) guidance says keeping children in consistent bubbles will not be needed for summer provision, or in the autumn.

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The report, from the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance (CEP), found that just over half of 10,000 adults surveyed support extending the school day to make up for learning loss, whilst more than two in three respondents in England support allowing greater flexibility for pupils to repeat a whole school year so they can catch up.

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Andrew Eyles, CEP research economist, said: "Rapidly rising absences in schools in June 2021 once again prompt discussion about potential policies that could address the learning loss suffered during the pandemic.

"Our survey responses show there is significant public support for two major policies - extending the school day; and allowing pupils to repeat a whole school year."

A Government spokesperson said: "We have committed to an ambitious, and long-term education recovery plan, including an investment to date of over £3 billion and a significant expansion of our tutoring programme, to support children and young people to make up for learning lost during the pandemic."