EEF publishes in-depth analysis of primary pupils’ performance in maths and reading assessments

New research will provide support for schools in identifying common areas where pupils could need additional assistance

New analysis published today by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), looks at Year 2 pupils’ (six and seven year olds) performance in maths and reading tests in November 2020 to identify common patterns, misconceptions and errors. The findings are designed to inform our understanding of areas where children may need additional support.

The new analysis conducted by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) is based on data collected from assessments in reading and maths taken in November 2020 by more than 5,900 Year 2 pupils in 168 primary schools. Their performance was compared with that of Year 2 pupils who took the same tests in autumn 2017, from a representative sample of schools.

The research finds that whilst on average all children achieved less well than the 2017 cohort, disadvantaged children performed worse on all questions across both subjects, and were less likely to attempt those towards the end of the assessments than their classmates.

The analysis of reading assessment data indicates that disruption to schooling appears to have had the greatest effect on pupils still in the early stages of learning to read, with children across the cohort misinterpreting question words, struggling to make specific inferences, and failing to understand sequences of events in stories.

The commentary of pupil performance in maths suggests that, in general, curriculum areas that children found challenging in 2020, such as money and fractions, were the same as those that pupils struggled with in 2017. The 2020 cohort also found multiplication and division calculations more difficult, especially when they were required to recall facts from multiplication tables. However, pupils mostly performed well on questions derived from the prior Year 1 curriculum material, such as number, addition, and subtraction— average performance in these topic areas was often at least as good as in 2017. This may be a result of consolidation in the autumn term of 2020 rather than the introduction of new material.

As well as providing a detailed commentary of Key Stage 1 assessment data, this publication also considers potential implications for teacher practice, intended to complement and work in partnership with broader school efforts to support pupil wellbeing and ensure positive outcomes for children. It forms part of an ongoing EEF-funded study assessing the extent to which Key Stage 1 pupils’ attainment in reading and maths are impacted by partial school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic, and particularly the effect on disadvantaged pupils.

This analysis follows interim findings from the study published last month, which provided one of the first actual estimates of the gap in attainment likely caused by March 2020 school closures in the first national lockdown. Overall, performance in both reading and mathematics in autumn 2020 was found to be significantly lower compared to the 2017 cohort, with pupils, on average, making two months less progress in both subject areas. There was also a large and concerning gap between the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and their peers, estimated to be the equivalent of seven months’ learning for both reading and maths.

Further analysis will be carried out in March 2021 and June 2021 to examine whether the attainment gap narrows, widens or remains stable.

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Today’s publication is another important step in building a more accurate picture of how our young pupils’ learning has been affected by partial school closures over the past year.

“It offers useful insights into specific areas of learning where gaps appear to have opened up, which schools can use as they plan how best to assess what learning recovery may be necessary in their context. These findings highlight the urgency of that work to identify learning loss and support recovery.

“We hope teachers and school leaders find this resource will be useful in supporting their efforts ahead of the full re-opening of schools to all pupils.”

Liz Twist, Head of Assessment Research at the National Foundation for Educational Research said:

“We are keen to find ways to support teachers during these challenging times. In Key Stage 1, children are developing the skills needed for future learning.

“We hope that, coupled with their own insights, this close analysis of how these skills have been affected by the disruption to schooling, can help teachers make informed decisions, plan future teaching and aid the recovery.”

NOTES TO EDITORS:

1. The full report will be available at 0001 on Friday here.

2. Testing was carried out by schools already using NFER’s tests. The autumn 2020 distribution of standardised scores was weighted to represent schools in England by a school-level attainment measure and compared with the 2017 standardisation sample. Differences in mean standardised score points were converted into effect sizes and mapped onto months’ progress using EEF’s standard conversion table.

3. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is an independent charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust, as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus, with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement.

4. For more information contact Charlotte Bedford, EEF Communications and Media Officer, at charlotte.bedford@eefoundation.org.uk and Julia Thompson, NFER Communications Manager, at julia.thompson@nfer.ac.uk.