Remote learning was a "partial substitute" at best for in-class teaching during the pandemic, according to a new report.
It finds that primary pupils, especially those in key stage 1, were most likely to miss out on learning when being educated remotely rather than in class.
Here are the key findings from the report from the Office for National Statistics:
Remote lessons: Schools hit with 'unhelpful' legal duty
Covid and schools: Remote learning order 'will lead to heads quitting'
Covid: The impact of the switch to remote learning in schools
1. Primary pupils missed out more from not attending school
"Primary school pupils learning remotely covered a much smaller fraction of the learning materials than their in-class peers," the report says, suggesting that younger pupils need more direct support from teachers and that the adjustment to remote working is harder for them.
Using a measure called the FTE (full-time equivalent), which compares the learning covered remotely with what pupils could cover in lessons at school, researchers found that on average across the past 15 months, primary pupils only covered two-fifths – 41 per cent – of the work they would have done in school.
In April 2020, the FTE for primary pupils was just 29 per cent, compared with 56 per cent for secondary students – but this rose to 49 per cent by June 2021.
For January and February 2021, the FTE was calculated based on comparisons with a normal school year rather than in-class learning at the time, as so few pupils were in school during this lockdown.
This was particularly true for the youngest pupils. According to teacher assessments gathered by Teacher Tapp, "around 60 per cent of learning at key stage 1 was dependent on parental instruction for the first nine months of the pandemic, falling to closer to 40 per cent in recent months," the report says.
2. The learning gap was wider for disadvantaged pupils – but teachers have helped narrow the gap
The report also says that the gap between pupils learning remotely and those in class was larger for pupils at schools with high levels of free school meals eligibility than for those in schools in less deprived areas.
But teachers managed to increase the learning covered for pupils in the most disadvantaged areas during the pandemic.
In April 2020, during the first lockdown, pupils in schools in quartile 4 – with the highest proportion of free school meals eligibility – only covered 55 per cent of the material at home that was being covered in school, compared with 61 per cent for pupils home learning at schools in the highest quartile.
By June 2021, schools in the highest quartile covered 77 per cent of the learning materials at home while schools in quartile 4 covered 69 per cent.
The report says that "although this gap [between disadvantaged pupils and their peers] has narrowed slightly in recent months, the cumulative impact on the learning provided to pupils over this period appears to have been considerable".
It says that "it could be that teachers from schools with the fewest FSM-eligible pupils may be able to rely more on pupils having access to appropriate technology for remote working".
"A further possibility is that social problems associated with the deprivation that links with FSM have a greater impact on pupils learning remotely than when they are in school," it says.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the findings “emphasise the need for a more ambitious and better resourced education recovery package” from the government.
“Despite the best efforts of schools, disadvantaged pupils are more likely than their peers to have suffered learning loss during the pandemic," he said.
“The government rollout of laptops for these pupils to enable them to access remote learning was ponderous.
“In addition, many of these young people may not have had a dedicated space in which to work [at home], and they often face many other challenges in their lives.
“It is vital that the government does everything possible to bring to an end the educational disruption of the past 18 months, and that it uses its current spending review to put together a more substantial education recovery package targeted at disadvantaged young people.”
3. Disadvantaged pupils were more reliant on parental involvement
Pupils in the highest quartile for affluence required less parental support to engage in remote learning.
In April 2020, 21 per cent of pupils in quartile 4 depended on parental input when learning remotely, compared with 15 per cent in the highest quartile.
In June 2021, 10 per cent in quartile 4 needed parental support, compared with 6 per cent in quartile 1.
4. Pupils need in-class teaching more for arts subjects
"The switch to remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic also appears to have had a more pronounced impact in some school subject areas than in others," the report says.
In secondary school data collected from Teacher Tapp, the teaching of arts subjects such as design and technology "has been particularly affected", the report says.
"Secondary school pupils that were remote learning in these subjects appear to have been able to cover significantly less material than their in-class peers," it adds.
In April 2020 pupils covered just 48 per cent of learning material in arts subjects at home, compared with 59 per cent for English and 64 per cent for maths. In June 2021, pupils covered 58 per cent of material in arts subjects, against 76 per cent for English and 78 per cent for maths.
5. There are no significant regional disparities
Somewhat surprisingly, while the learning loss of not being in school differs by age and socioeconomic background, there do not seem to be significant disparities by region, according to the report.
"There is little evidence here that remote learning has been significantly more successful in any one region than another," the report says.
"For primary teaching, the South West region reports that remote learning was the closest approximation to in-class teaching for much of the course of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, while Yorkshire and the North East is consistently among the lowest reporting regions," it says, but it adds that the differences are "mostly not statistically significant".