Education Endowment Foundation:EEF publishes new analysis on impact of COVID-19 on attainment gap

EEF publishes new analysis on impact of COVID-19 on attainment gap


New study finds significantly lower achievement”, with a large and concerning gap” for disadvantaged pupils.

Press Release •4 minutes •

Today, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published interim findings from a study assessing the extent to which Key Stage 1 pupils’ attainment in reading and maths were impacted by partial school closures during the first national COVID-19 lockdown, and particularly the effect on disadvantaged pupils

This paper focuses on the gap in attainment likely caused by March 2020 school closures (commonly called learning loss’), and the disadvantage gap for Year 2 children as measured in autumn 2020.

The findings suggest that primary-age pupils have significantly lower achievement in both reading and maths as a likely result of missed learning. In addition, there is a large and concerning attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils.

This study is one of the first to provide robust insights into the extent of learning loss that might have occurred as a result of partial school closures. It is based on data collected by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) from assessments in reading and maths taken in November 2020 by more than 5,900 Year 2 (6 / 7 year olds) pupils in 168 representative primary schools. These were compared with tests taken by Year 2 pupils in autumn 2017, also from a representative sample of schools.

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 compared to the standardisation sample. Worryingly, the study finds that a very large number of pupils were unable to engage effectively with the tests.

The study also finds a large and concerning gap between the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils. For both reading and maths this gap is estimated to be the equivalent of seven months’ learning. While both calculations indicate a large gap, the results, expressed in terms of months of learning, should be interpreted with caution.

The 2017 NFER assessment data did not compare the performance of disadvantaged pupils with all other pupils. As a result, we do not know if the gap has grown compared to 2017

These interim findings are part of an ongoing EEF-funded study. Further analysis will be carried out in March 2021 and June 2021 to examine whether the gap narrows, widens or remains stable. In addition to these preliminary findings, NFER is preparing a short publication for teachers that will include more detailed commentary on pupils’ responses and suggestions that schools can act upon.

Last June, the EEF published a rapid evidence assessment, Best evidence on impact of school closures on the attainment gap, which found that school closures are likely to reverse progress made to close the gap in the last decade since 2011

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

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

Dr Ben Styles, head of the National Foundation for Educational Research’s Education Trials Unit said:


1. The full report is available 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.