Younger primary schoolchildren and those in poorer areas have suffered the greatest loss of learning during pandemic closures that have closed schools to most students in England, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The ONS analysis found that schools with the highest proportion of children eligible for free school meals (FSM) faced the greatest challenges in distance teaching during the 2020 and 2021 closures, which the agency attributed to lower levels student engagement and communication with teachers; lack of Internet access; and the “social problems” associated with deprivation.
Children aged five to seven, in the first key stage, covered the least amount of classroom material, compared to older children who depended less on their parents.
“Distance learning was, at best, a partial substitute for classroom instruction during the Covid-19 pandemic, as students covered significantly less material when working from home than their peers in the classroom,” he said. declared the ONS.
To measure the impact of distance learning, the ONS used survey data from teachers to measure the amount of learning received by students, based on parental involvement and amount of material that schools were able to cover compared to what they were able to teach those in the classrooms. .
The results show that while high school students using distance learning received about three-quarters of an equivalent full-time student, those in elementary schools only received about half when the lockdown ended. This despite a significant improvement in the amount of distance learning provided since the first lockdown in April 2020.
But the ONS found that the most consistent learning differences were observed between schools based on the proportion of students receiving the WSF.
Teachers from the 25% of schools with the highest proportion of FSM students said they were able to cover less subject matter with distance learners. But teachers in schools with the fewest FSM beneficiaries said the material they covered was closer to what they were able to cover with learners at school.
“Although this gap has narrowed slightly in recent months, the cumulative impact on the learning provided to students during this period appears to have been substantial,” the ONS said.
Teachers in the most disadvantaged schools also reported lower levels of communication with their students, only in regular contact with an average of 50% of their students compared to 67% of those in less disadvantaged areas.
FSMs are available for children whose parents receive benefits, including income support, or receive universal credit with non-benefit household income of less than £ 7,400 per year after tax.
Paul Whiteman, secretary general of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “There is no doubt that the immense effort of schools during the lockdown has helped protect the majority of young people from the worst effects of the pandemic. However, the current stimulus mission will falter if the Treasury is not prepared to invest more in schools during the next spending review.
“The Prime Minister himself has promised that no student will be left behind due to learning lost during the pandemic. This must be the top priority of the government and it must be accompanied by additional financial support for schools.
The ONS also found that distance learning was less effective in teaching some subjects than others. Teachers reported a greater reduction in the material covered by distance learners for the arts, including design and technology. Other subjects, such as mathematics and English, have been taught more successfully, as has physical education.