Disadvantaged pupils face six-month 'learning loss'

School closures during the coronavirus lockdown could leave disadvantaged children six months behind their peers, researchers find

Tes Reporter

School closure

School closures during the Covid-19 lockdown could leave disadvantaged children with a "learning loss" of up to six months, social mobility experts have warned.

The government should support the idea of a national tutoring service where university graduates help children catch up with education missed during school closures, academics at the University of Exeter and London School of Economics (LSE) have urged.

It comes after Tory MP Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, called for an "army" of volunteers to be set up to support disadvantaged pupils when the lockdown ends.

The MP has also campaigned for a "catch-up premium" to help vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils as research suggests that such children are "adversely affected" by school closures.

Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, and Stephen Machin, professor of economics and director of the Centre for Economic Performance at LSE, reviewed existing research on the impact of learning loss over summer holidays to estimate the potential gap.

Disadvantaged pupils could experience learning losses of between four and six months if Covid-19 school closures last several months, the researchers have estimated.

Professor Elliot Major said: "We are concerned about the impact of school closures on disadvantaged families and it is likely during this period of lockdown some middle-class children will have benefited from extensive use of private tutoring, which will exacerbate education gaps further.

"We are also concerned poorer pupils are under-predicted in GCSEs and A levels, and students due to take exams next year will struggle with learning losses and being unable to attend university access schemes in person."

Previous analysis shows some low-income pupils in the US were as much as three months behind their better-off peers in reading achievement after the long summer break.

Earlier this month, social mobility charity Sutton Trust, where Professor Elliot Major used to be chief executive, called for high-quality online tuition for all disadvantaged pupils to be funded through a voucher scheme or through a network of quality-assured tutoring providers.

A briefing paper, prepared by Professor Elliot Major for policymakers, recommends that teachers should decide which pupils would benefit from tutoring.

It could be paid for from pupil premium funding and run by organisations with a track record in supporting schools, with a senior teacher in each school championing the support.

Professor Elliot Major added: "We believe there is an opportunity for government to back a coalition of tutoring charities, universities, students and schools who could work together to tackle stark education gaps in the wake of the Covid-19 school closures."

It is likely that Mr Halfon will discuss his volunteer scheme idea with education secretary Gavin Williamson during the Select Committee on Wednesday.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We will do everything possible to make sure no child, whatever their background, falls behind as a result of coronavirus.

"The government has already committed over £100 million to support remote education, including providing devices and internet access to those children who need it most.

"Schools are also continuing to receive additional funding in the form of the pupil premium – worth around £2.4 billion annually – to help them support their disadvantaged pupils.

"The department is considering, with a range of partner organisations, how best to support all pupils to make up for time out of school."

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