Pupils missed more than half of classroom time during Covid pandemic

Pupils have missed out on more than half of classroom time during the pandemic, a major study has found, amid calls to allow them the option to repeat the entire school year. 

Between March last year and this April, children in England lost an "unprecedented" 110 days of learning in school, according to a new report by Exeter University and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The academic year consists of 190 classroom days, meaning youngsters have missed 58 per cent of the time they would normally spend at school. 

Researchers analysed pupil attendance data in primary and secondary schools in all four of the UK nations over the past year and also conducted a survey of 10,000 adults.

Sixty-eight per cent of those polled in England were in favour of giving pupils the option to repeat the entire year of school and over half said they supported extending the school day.

Prof Stephen Machin, a co-author of the report and the director of LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance, said the research highlighted the "stark gaps" in attainment between children from deprived backgrounds and their wealthier peers. He warned that this was "likely to cause a significant decline in social mobility for younger generations".  

Researchers found that, in each of the four nations of the UK, the poorest pupils lost more learning time than their richer peers.

Children in more deprived areas are missing school due to Covid at twice the rate of those in wealthier areas

During this year’s school closures, the poorest pupils in England missed out on over a third of their learning – 35 per cent – while the richest pupils missed out on 25 per cent. This 10.5 percentage point gap is slightly larger than the 8.8 percentage point gap researchers calculated as an average in the rest of the UK.    

During the return of schools last autumn, the poor-rich gap in learning loss was "noticeably larger" in England compared to the rest of the UK at 7.5 percentage points versus 1.6.

Researchers made a separate calculation to work out how many days of learning were lost when remote education was factored in. Their findings suggest that pupils in England on average lost 61 days of schooling during the pandemic, compared to 64 in Scotland, 66 in Wales and 61 in Northern Ireland.

Prof Lee Elliot Major, an expert in social mobility at Exeter University, said: "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. This shows that ministers can make a difference – but quick action is needed."

Earlier this year, the Government’s catch-up tsar resigned amid a row over funding, accusing ministers of a "half-hearted" approach to helping children whose learning had been disrupted by the pandemic.

Sir Kevan warned that the funding allocated "does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge" posed by months of school disruption, representing just one tenth of the £15 billion he said was necessary.

A government spokesman 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."

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