Education Endowment Foundation:New research on the impact of COVID-19 on the disadvantage gap in primary schools

New research on the impact of COVID-19 on the disadvantage gap in primary schools

New research on the impact of the pandemic on the attainment gap.

New research indicates that the gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Press Release •2 minutes •

A new report from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) finds that the attainment gap between disadvantaged primary school pupils and their classmates has grown by about a month over the course of the pandemic.

According to the research, the maths disadvantage attainment gap widened during the first period of school closures in Spring 2020. The attainment gaps in reading and maths did not widen – or shrink – during the following school year (2020−2021), which suggests that attainment gaps caused by disruptions to learning are unlikely to close without intervention.

The project, undertaken by FFT Datalab, used assessments taken by 19,000 primary-aged pupils (five to eleven-year-olds) from 117 English primary schools to look at changes to the attainment gap, and when exactly these occurred.

Data from reading and maths assessments (PIRA and PUMA tests) taken in Autumn 2019, prior to the pandemic, were used as a baseline to track the trajectory of the gap. The same group of pupils took reading and maths tests at further points during the pandemic: on their return to the classroom in September 2020, towards the end of the Autumn term 2020, during the Spring term 2021, and then again in the Summer term 2021.

Disadvantaged pupils’ performance in the tests was compared to their classmates to examine changes to the attainment gap which might have resulted from the various periods of partial school closures.

This report did not measure the impact of school closures on overall learning progress (sometimes referred to as learning loss) but, instead, looked at the differences in progress between pupils eligible for free school meals and those that are not.

These findings highlight the difficulty of combatting educational inequality in classrooms. Data collected from PIRA and PUMA assessments taken at the end of the Summer term 2021 indicates that the return of all pupils to school has not been enough to narrow the newly-widened maths gap.

The full report can be found here.

Professor Becky Francis, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: