Pupils are 'three months behind' with studies as they return to school

Nearly every pupil in England will be three months behind in their education when they return to the classroom this week, according to a new survey.

When questioned by The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), 98% of 3,000 school leaders and teachers claimed students were not as far along with their learning as would normally be expected at the end of the 2019/20 school year.

However, the Covid-19 crisis has hit those in disadvantaged schools the hardest, with 53% of teachers claiming these students were ‘four months or more’ behind in their learning, compared to 15% of teachers in wealthier settings.

The learning gap between these pupils is estimated to have increased by 46%, according to teachers from more than 2,200 mainstream primary and secondary schools.

Almost a quarter of teachers (21%) believe boys are further behind than girls, with educators only covering 66% of last year’s curriculum overall.

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

Meanwhile, only 56% of students who were eligible to come back to school did so, with those from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds having a lower attendance rate at 49%.

Dr Angela Donkin, chief social scientist at NFER, says it is ‘clear’ disadvantaged pupils and schools in the poorest areas need extra support as children struggle to catch up.

She 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.’

Nonetheless, 74% of teachers do not feel able to teach to their usual standard while coronavirus regulations are in force, researchers found.

More than 500 of teachers questioned said social distancing requirements had a negative impact on their ability to do their job.

The Department for Education has claimed its £1 billion ‘Covid catch-up package’ will tackle the problem, with ‘targeted funding’ for the most disadvantaged students.

However, NFER has called for ministers to offer further support to manage pupil non-attendance and more money to help with managing virus safety measures.

‘Intensive catch-up support’ will be needed by 44% of pupils, with this percentage increasing to 57% in the most deprived schools, the survey said.

Shadow education Secretary Kate Green said: ‘The learning that children have lost in recent months shows that keeping schools safely open to all must be a national priority in the months ahead.

‘When schools are closed, we see deep inequalities become more entrenched, and those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds lose out most.’

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