Revealed: Your pupils' remote learning class divide

Startling disparities in home learning between poorer households and wealthier families uncovered by new research
21st January 2021, 12:01am
Catherine Lough


Revealed: Your pupils' remote learning class divide
Coronavirus & Schools: More Pupil Premium Funding Is Needed To Help Disadvantaged Pupils Catch Up On Lost Learning, Says The Sutton Trust

Just a quarter of pupils in working-class households are completing over five hours of schoolwork a day, compared with 40 per cent from middle-class families, a new remote learning report from social mobility charity The Sutton Trust reveals.

The Sutton Trust is calling on the government to provide a one-off £750 million boost to the Pupil Premium to counteract the impacts of the pandemic for disadvantaged students, following the publication of the report, Learning in Lockdown.

Its findings also reveal that 28 per cent of parents on low incomes have been finding this lockdown more difficult than the lockdown last spring, compared with just 15 per cent of those on the highest incomes, according to YouGov data.

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The charity has called for the government to provide a "one-off boost" to the Pupil Premium to be used by schools to fund catch-up provision. It suggests that £400 per pupil, at an estimated cost of £750 million, could be used to "fund 30 minutes of paired tuition, five times a week, for 12 weeks, which the EEF [Education Endowment Foundation] estimates can result in an additional four months of progress for students, or a week-long summer school, potentially resulting in two months' additional progress."

However, the report adds that teachers should be "empowered" to choose exactly how the money is spent.

The research shows there has been an increase in the intensity of online teaching compared with the first lockdown, with almost a quarter (23 per cent) of primary pupils now doing more than five hours of learning a day, up from one in 10 (11 per cent) at the end of March. For secondary students, this figure has increased from 19 per cent to 45 per cent.   

But there are also ongoing issues when it comes to access to digital devices. While 87 per cent of high-income households report having enough devices for online learning, just 59 per cent of the poorest households say the same.

In the charity's polling of 877 parents by YouGov, two in five (41 per cent) said that they have not got very much time or no time at all to help their children with online lessons.

And while 19 per cent of the highest earners have spent more than £200 on their child's learning since September, 31 per cent of the lowest earners had not been able to spend anything.

Coronavirus: The 'devastating' impact of lost learning

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: "The first period of school closures have had a huge impact on all young people, but particularly those from lower-income backgrounds.

"The repercussions of these months of lost learning are devastating and will be felt for years to come. It's imperative that we don't let this happen again.

"Today's research shows that schools are now better equipped to deliver online teaching. But significant barriers remain that threaten to widen the gap between rich and poor pupils still further. 

"The immediate priority has to be to address the gap in digital provision between rich and poor. The government has made good progress, but they need to do more.

"There also has to be substantial additional funding for schools when they reopen, focused on students from low-income backgrounds who have fallen even further behind."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union the NAHT, said: "The coronavirus pandemic has impacted pupils in very different ways, with some much more able to continue their learning than others.

"It is, of course, the pupils who we were most concerned about before the pandemic who have faced the greatest challenges during lockdown.

"However, we should remember that the 'disadvantage gap' existed long before the pandemic. Lockdown has brought the gap into focus, and may well have widened it for some young people, but it did not create it. And, unfortunately, we can't assume that a return to 'normal' will cause the gap to close.

"The fundamental issues creating disadvantage must be addressed by government once we emerge from this if we are to make a real difference in the future."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Schools have worked incredibly hard to develop remote education and are in a completely different place than they were during the first lockdown when they had to suddenly provide remote learning for millions of children from scratch. This research from the Sutton Trust shows the enormous progress that has been made since then.

"However, remote education is simply not a substitute for classroom teaching because of problems such as how much time parents have available to help their children, and lack of access to laptops. Often it is the most disadvantaged children who are further disadvantaged.

"It is pretty clear from this research that there are still significant gaps in laptop provision despite the government's programme to provide devices to disadvantaged youngsters.

"The government was too slow to respond to this issue earlier in the crisis, and we are not sure it has ever really got to grips with the level of need. It has also been very poor on supporting schools and colleges financially, handing out catch-up money with one hand while refusing to reimburse them for coronavirus safety measures on the other hand."

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teachers' union, said:  "We agree with the Sutton Trust that disadvantaged pupils are going to require significant extra investment because of deepening levels of deprivation.

"It's really important that schools are given flexibility about how they target it, based on their context. This report highlights the difficulty for families on lower incomes in spending on their children's learning. These figures hammer home how much easier it is to provide learning opportunities in families on higher incomes."

"This study shows teachers are citing a faster rollout of laptops as the single most helpful intervention for disadvantaged students, and teachers have been saying this since the summer. There is no excuse for why the government rollout has been so slow and inefficient. 

"It is clear, however, that the existing divide in terms of food, laptops, home environment and job security is getting worse because of the virus, and the government response needs to be radical and long-term. We need a strategy to end child poverty in the UK.

"Parents with lower incomes will not be able to spend additional money on small but essential items such as pens and paper to work from home. Many school budgets already stretched to breaking point will also find replicating the access to resources found in the classroom a significant problem.

"The NEU agrees that schools and colleges need investment on a scale that could ensure no child is left behind after the pandemic." 

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