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Best evidence on impact of Covid-19 on pupil attainment

Research examining the potential impact of school closures on the attainment gap.

This page aims to summarise the research around the impact of changes to practice due to Covid-19 on pupil attainment. It is updated as new studies are published. Studies have not been reviewed systematically. 

Studies that measure the impact of partial school closures

StudyWhat does it look at?What is the impact on learning?What is the impact on disadvantaged pupils?
DfE interim findings from Spring term The analysis is based on results achieved by primary pupils (in year groups 3-6) in the 2020/21 spring term in comparison with previous years. Primary-aged pupils have experienced a learning loss in reading and mathematics. This was typically equivalent to between 2.0 and 2.3 months of progress in reading, and between 3.1 and 3.6 months in mathematics. There was further learning loss in primary schools in England, particularly in reading, following restrictions to in-person learning in early 2021. Analysis of the impact on disadvantaged pupils will be presented in a subsequent full report.
DfE complete findings from Autumn termThis report analyses results achieved by pupils (across age groups) in the first and second half of the 2020/21 autumn term in comparison to pupils in previous years.All year groups have experienced a learning loss in reading. In both primary and secondary schools, this was typically between 1.5 and 2 months. Primary aged pupils in mathematics experienced a much greater learning loss of over three and a half months.Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds experienced higher levels of loss than their non-disadvantaged peers (1 month more learning loss in reading and 0.5 months more in mathematics compared to their non-disadvantaged peers). The effect on disadvantaged pupils is equivalent to undoing a third of the progress made in the last decade on closing the gap in primary schools.
RS Assessment This paper analyses attainment among primary pupils in England after the third national lockdown and suspension of most in-person teaching from January to early to mid-March 2021.There were substantial drops in attainment between spring 2020 and 2021 across all subjects and year groups, more than twice the size of the drops seen at the end of autumn 2020. Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling (GPS) and maths showed the largest declines, representing a gap of on average three months’ progress across all year groups. Reading, on average, showed a two-month gap.Schools with a high percentage of children eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) experienced decreases in scores approximately twice as severe as schools with a low percentage of FSM eligible children.
GL Assessment A report on data derived from the New Group Reading Test (primary and secondary).In the 2019-2020 academic year, primary school children experienced a small decline in attainment in reading, but it was not significant.Analysis of the impact on disadvantaged pupils was not presented.
NFER Interim Report (EEF funded)This interim report assesses the extent to which Year 2 pupils’ attainment in reading and maths were impacted by partial school closures during the first national Covid-19 lockdown,Year 2 pupils were 2 months behind in English and maths in Autumn 2020 compared to pupils in previous years.The disadvantage gap is large in both reading and maths (7 months) and seems to have widened from previous estimates
Covid-19 disruptions Attainment gaps and primary school responses, FFT and Teacher Tapp This descriptive study focuses on primary schools in England. It aims to quantify changes in attainment gaps since the onset of Covid-19. It also describes the responses of teachers and schools to the challenges of Covid-19 and explores associations between school responses and changes in attainment gaps. The study measured gaps in learning rather than overall learning loss.The first study finds that disadvantage gaps for primary maths have widened since Autumn 2019. Between Autumn 2019 and Autumn 2020, the gap in maths widened by between 10% and 24%. This gap remained consistent during Autumn term, with no signs of closing. There was no evidence of gap widening in English.
Department for Education Interim Report The analysis is based on the results achieved by pupils (across age groups) in the first half of the 2020/21 autumn term (up to and including 25 October 2020) in comparison to pupils in previous yearsAll year groups have experienced a learning loss in reading. In primary schools these were typically between 1.7 and 2.0 monthsSchools with high levels of disadvantage have experienced higher levels of loss than other schools, particularly in secondary (2.2 months in schools with high rates of free school meal eligibility and 1.5 months in schools with low rates of free school meal eligibility)
RS AssessmentThis paper analyses attainment among primary pupils in England after the national lockdown and suspension of most in-person teaching during the spring and summer of 2020At the end of the 2020 autumn term, there were measurable declines in attainment compared to the previous year across virtually all subjects and year groups (1-2 months))The Year 6 Pupil Premium group could now be around 7 months behind the non-Pupil Premium group in Maths, a widening of 2 months since 2019.
GL AssessmentAn interim report on data derived from Progress Test Series in English, maths and science and the New Group Reading Test (primary and secondary)On average, school attainment has fallen across all subjects. Maths (PTM) and science (PTS) scores declined most between 2019 and 2020 The difference between students with FSM and those without was not significant.
Juniper EducationThe study examines Juniper Education teacher assessments for pupils in years 1-6The number of children in Years 2 to 6 who were achieving at or above the standard expected for their age dropped by approximately one fifth between autumn 2019 and summer 2020There was a more pronounced drop in the proportion of disadvantaged pupils working to expected levels for their age than for their non-disadvantaged peers, with Year 1 2019/20 worst affected
NWEA (USA)This US study used data from nearly 4.4 million students¹ in grades 3–8 who took MAP® Growth™ assessments in fall 2020In fall of 2020, students in grades 3–8 performed similarly in reading to same-grade students in fall 2019, but about 5 to 10 percentile points lower in math. No conclusions - but concerns over missing data from disadvantaged students
Maldonado, De Witte (2020) The Effect of School Closures on Standardised Student Test Outcomes (Belgium)The study examines differences in standardised test score for primary schools in BelgiumSignificant differences in learning 4 months equivalent in maths, 3 months in Dutch Schools with a more disadvantaged population experienced larger learning losses.
Engzell, Frey, Verhagen (2021) Learning loss due to school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic (Holland)This study examines national test data in Holland for pupils aged 8-11Results reveal a learning loss of about 3 percentile points. The effect is equivalent to a fifth of a school yearLosses sixty percent greater in students whose parents had low education, despite good broadband/device distribution
Curriculum Associates (USA)This analysis examines K-8 students in US, using results of the i-Ready Diagnostic test from Fall 2020Students were 1% more likely to place below grade level in reading 2020 than historical record and 6% more likely to be behind in mathematicsStudents in lower-income schools appear to be impacted more than students in higher-income schools by school closures.
Kogan, Lavertu (2021) The COVID-19 Pandemic and Student Achievement on Ohio’s Third-Grade English Language Arts Assessment (USA)The study summarises Third-Grade English Language Arts Assessment in OhioAverage achievement on the Ohio Third-Grade English Language Arts (ELA) assessment declined by roughly one-third of a year’s worth of learning.The greatest declines were in counties where unemployment was highest.
Pier, Hough, Christian, Bookman, Wilkenfeld, Miller (2021) Evidence on Learning Loss From the CORE Data Collaborative (USA)Growth in standardized attainment (maths/reading) for 2019 to 2020, compared to previous years, for grades 4-10 Learning loss in English and Maths in elementary and middle score (average of 1-2 months for grades 4-8); evidence of learning gains in high school maths (grades 9-10) and no change in high-school English.Evidence of widening gaps in elementary/middle school (grades 4-8) for reading (2 months) and maths (0.7 months). In high school, no evidence of gap widening.
Domingue, Hough, Lang, Yeatman (2021) Changing Patterns of Growth in Oral Reading Fluency During the COVID-19 Pandemic (USA)Growth in oral reading fluency, compared to previous years, for grades 1-4 Evidence of learning loss in reading fluency across grades 1-4. No evidence of 'catch-up' in Autumn 2020, but learning rates returned to typical levels.Disadvantage analysis is at the district level. No clear evidence that districts greater levels of disadvantage had greater learning loss due to covid-19.

What does the evidence say?

There is a growing evidence around the impact of school closures on the learning outcomes of pupils. Research shows a consistent pattern:

  • Pupils have made less academic progress compared with previous year groups
  • There is a large attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils, which seems to have grown

Studies from NFER, Department for Education and GL assessment show a consistent impact of the first national lockdown with pupils making around 2 months less progress than similar pupils in previous years. The studies from NFER and RS assessment both show large gaps for disadvantaged pupils, which seem to have grown since the start of the pandemic. 

While many studies show similar learning effects between English and mathematics learning, some recent studies - including the analysis commissioned by the DfE does indicate some increased learning loss for mathematics. Most studies have taken place in primary schools. Where studies have examined older pupils (DfE and GL Assessment), the results are inconsistent with one study showing similar impacts and the other showing a smaller impact for pupils in secondary schools.

While most studies measure the impact of the first national lockdown and do no take into account the potential impact of subsequent national restrictions, there are now a number of studies that show the preliminary evidence of further gap widening and negative learning impacts into Spring 2021. There is also evidence that, while disadvantaged pupils may have been harmed disproportionately by school closures, they did not receive disproportionate recovery in Autumn term 2020 (although it should be noted that this term did not represent a return to normal school for many pupils and teachers). 

The research is consistent with surveys of parents and teachers on access to education during the pandemic, which indicates disparities in access to technology and levels of parental support - one potential explanation for why gaps might open up between groups of pupils. The recent evidence is also consistent with prior research, which shows differential learning loss during summer holidays and other school closures, which is summarised in the EEF rapid evidence assessment on school closures. 

International evidence from Belgium, Holland and the USA is consistent in showing overall progress gaps and attainment gaps for disadvantaged pupils. 

Links to studies

  1. Education Policy Institute, Renaissance Learning (2021) Understanding Progress in the 2020/21 Academic Year interim findings (Spring term), Department for Education. Available here
  2. Education Policy Institute, Renaissance Learning (2021) Understanding Progress in the 2020/21 Academic Year final report (Autumn term), Department for Education. Available here
  3. RS Assessment (2021) The impact of school closures on spring 2021 attainment. Available here
  4. GL Assessment (2021) Words of Encouragement. Available here
  5. NFER (2021) Impact of school closures and subsequent support strategies on attainment and socio-emotional wellbeing in Key Stage 1: Interim Paper 1, Education Endowment Foundation. Available here.
  6. FFT, Teacher Tapp (2021) Covid-19 disruptions: Attainment gaps and primary school responses, Education Endowment Foundation. Available here.
  7. Education Policy Institute, Renaissance Learning (2021) Understanding Progress in the 2020/21 Academic Year interim findings Autumn term), Department for Education. Available here
  8. RS Assessment (2021) The impact of school closures on autumn 2020 attainment. Available here
  9. GL Assessment (2021) Impact of Covid-19 on attainment: initial analysis. Available here.
  10. Juniper Education (2021) National Dataset Report: The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on primary school children's learning. Available here
  11. Maldonado, De Witte (2020) The Effect of School Closures on Standardised Student Test Outcomes. Download here
  12. Engzell, Frey, Verhagen (2021) Learning loss due to school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Available here.
  13. Kuhfeld, Tarasawa, Johnson, Ruzek, Lewis (2020) Learning During Covid-19: Initial findings on students' reading and math achievement and growth, Collaborative for Student Growth. Available here
  14. Curriculum Associates (2020) Understanding student needs: Early results from fall assessments. Available here
  15. Kogan, Lavertu (2021) The COVID-19 Pandemic and Student Achievement on Ohio’s Third-Grade English Language Arts Assessment (USA). Available here
  16. Pier, Hough, Christian, Bookman, Wilkenfeld, Miller (2021) Evidence on Learning Loss From the CORE Data Collaborative, PACE. Available here.
  17. Domingue, Hough, Lang, Yeatman (2021) Changing Patterns of Growth in Oral Reading Fluency During the COVID-19 Pandemic, PACE. Available here.

This list is not based on a systematic search, if you know of any studies we are missing that measure attainment during the pandemic, please get in touch with jonathan.kay@eefoundation.org.uk

EEF funded studies

The EEF have funded three studies looking at the impact of partial school closures on the disadvantage gap. Where papers are published from the projects they are added to the table above. 

Other evidence on the impact of Covid-19

  • The EEF conducted a rapid evidence assessment on previous school closures and the attainment gap, which can be found here. A summary of findings is here.
  • Sutton Trust have conducted polling of parents and teachers at different stages of the pandemic, which indicates disparities in access to devices and other barriers to learning for disadvantaged pupils. It can be found here.
  • IFS have conducted polling on learning during the first national lockdown, which can be found here
  • The Big Lockdown Learning Parent Survey seeks to examine parental accounts of learning during the second national lockdown, information on the study and its findings can be found here
  • This UCL IOE study examined remote mathematics practice during Covid-19, and includes interesting findings on schools approaches to curriculum delivery during this period. It can be found here
  • Dr Canovan and Naomi Fallon published a working paper on the levels of learning in Science during lockdown. It does not report pupil outcome findings, but does indicate lower levels of science teaching during lockdown. It can be found here
  • NFER have a helpful summary on research conducted into schools' responses to Covid-19, which can be found here
  1. Updated: 3rd June, 2020

    Rapid evidence assessment summary

  1. Updated: 2nd June, 2020

    Impact of school closures on the attainment gap: Rapid Evidence Assessment (June 2020)

The EEF has produced a number of resources that respond to the challenges of remote teaching and long-term recovery. They include information on parental engagement, school planning and the National Tutoring Programme, and can be found on the Covid-19 section of our website.