Most students 'three months behind with studies' - survey

1 September 2020, 00:56

Teachers believe most pupils are three months behind in their studies
Teachers believe most pupils are three months behind in their studies. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Most pupils returning to classrooms in England this week will be three months behind in their studies, a survey has suggested.

The poll found that 98% of 3,000 school leaders and teachers thought pupils have not progressed as would normally be expected at the end of the 2019/20 school year.

Just over one in five (21%) of those asked in the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) survey also felt boys had fallen further behind than girls.

The study of teachers from across more than 2,200 mainstream primary and secondary schools comes ahead of many students returning to classrooms this week for the first time since lockdown in late March.

On average, teachers had covered two-thirds (66%) of the curriculum during the 2019/20 academic year as of July, the study found, adding that the majority of pupils were three months behind in their studies.

However, of those teaching in England's poorer schools, more than half (53%) said their students were "four months or more" behind in their learning, compared to 15% of teachers in wealthier settings.

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The learning gap between disadvantaged pupils and those better-off also increased by almost one-half (46%), according to the survey, with that figure believed to be an "under-estimate".

Dr Angela Donkin, chief social scientist at NFER, said: "Whilst it is crucial that children catch-up, we should not assume that teachers will immediately be able to deliver the same quality of teaching, at the same speed, as before the pandemic.

"There remains a range of barriers for teachers and schools, which means catch-up should be seen as part of the ongoing process of learning recovery, for most pupils, rather than as a quick-turnaround solution."

She said it was "clear" that additional support needed to be targeted at disadvantaged pupils and schools in the poorest areas.

The majority of pupils had been expected to learn at home throughout the 2019/20 summer term, but teachers reported that only 38% returned their last piece of set work in July, compared to 42% in May.

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School leaders said that just over half (56%) of students who were eligible to return did so, with those from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds having lower attendance at 49%.

Almost a third (32%) of school leaders said safety concerns from parents were a common reason for their children not attending.

Roughly three-quarters of teachers (74%) did not feel able to teach to their usual standard while the coronavirus regulations were in force, the survey found.

In an open response question, 49% of 1,034 teachers whose teaching was affected said distancing requirements had a negative impact on areas such as group work and their ability to interact with pupils properly.

More than half of school leaders (51%) also reported that they were using teaching assistants to lead classes.

Teachers estimated that 44% of their pupils will need "intensive catch-up support", the survey said, with the percentage increasing to 57% in the most deprived schools.

NFER's list of recommendations included the need for schools to receive further support to manage pupil non-attendance and more money to help with managing coronavirus safety measures.

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