Early research seeks to quantify pandemic learning loss

Early findings from research into the extent of learning loss due to the coronavirus pandemic has found variations between different year groups, and between schools with different intake profiles. The research was commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) and carried out by Renaissance Learning UK LTD (Renaissance) and the Education Policy Institute (EPI). It used data from Renaissance’s Star Reading and Maths assessments, which were sat by pupils in England in the first half of the autumn term 2020, and also drew on data from the same assessments in the 2019/20 academic year to make comparisons between different groups of pupils (adjusting for historic differences in progress).

In their interim findings the researchers conclude that all year groups experienced a learning loss in reading. In primary schools this was typically between 1.7 and 2.0 months, in year 8 it was 1.6 months, and in year 9 2.0 months. However they found primary schools with high rates of free school meal (FSM) eligibility (more than 25 per cent of pupils eligible) showed greater levels of learning loss in reading than those schools with low rates of FSM eligibility (less than 10 per cent eligible). The difference between the two groups of schools was about 0.3 months, with low-FSM schools 1.7 months behind and high-FSM schools 2.0 months behind. At secondary level there was an even wider gap, with high-FSM schools 2.2 months behind and low-FSM schools just 1.5 months behind. The researchers note that pupils in Year 7 showed the smallest level of reading loss of any year group, at 0.9 months, and speculate that this may be because this group (who returned to school as Year 6 pupils in June 2020) spent less time out of school than other year groups in the study. However for various reasons, including the smaller sample size of the Year 7 cohort, they can’t draw this conclusion definitively.

The report’s authors found an even greater level of learning loss for maths, estimating than primary pupils had lost around 3.2 months of learning. However, due to small sample sizes, they note that this estimate is less robust than that made for reading, and were not able to draw conclusions about learning loss in maths at secondary level at all.

Regional differences in levels of learning loss were also identified. Even after adjusting for historic differences in pupil progress, researchers found that, in reading, pupils in the North East and Yorkshire & the Humber regions experienced the greatest level of learning loss, at 2.4 and 2.2 months respectively. In comparison the learning loss in the South East was 1.7 months, and in London 1.8 months.

Commenting on the interim report Natalie Perera, chief executive of the EPI said: ‘These new findings show that considerable losses in pupil progress were already evident by the first half of the autumn term, with pupils in primary schools, secondary schools and in different parts of the country all seeing their academic progress penalised by the pandemic. Since then, pupils have faced further disruption as a result of this period of school closures. While teachers, parents and pupils have been going to great lengths to adapt to remote learning, the real concern now is that these learning losses could increase.’

Further reports, in which the researchers hope to be able to draw more definitive conclusions in some areas, will follow. The full report of these interim findings, Understanding progress in the 2020/21 academic year, can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/38edxfvs

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