Education Endowment Foundation:Impact of Key Stage 1 school closures on later attainment and social skills (a longitudinal study)

Impact of Key Stage 1 school closures on later attainment and social skills (a longitudinal study)

Project info

Independent Evaluator

NFER logo

Assessing the impact of COVID-19 school closures at KS1 on later pupil outcomes (KS1 and KS2)

Pupils: 6200 Schools: 82
Participating settings: 82

This is a longitudinal study that follows the youngest school-age children affected by the COVID-19 pandemic over time to understand the long-term impact of the partial school closure on pupils’ attainment (reading and maths) and social skills, and on the gap between the attainment of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children.

The research, conducted by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER), builds on findings from a previous study (Rose et al. 2021) and tracks pupils who were in KS1 (Year 1 and Year 2) during the first partial school closure in 2020/21 through primary school. It aims to do this by tracking the same pupils, who were in Years 2 and 3 in the 2021/22 academic year, until they are in Year 6 in 2024/25 and 2025/26 respectively.

This study aims to understand two attainment gaps:

  • The Covid-19 gap’: The extent of the impact on pupils’ attainment in reading and mathematics by partial school closures.
  • The disadvantage gap’: The extent to which pupils eligible for Free School Meals show lower reading and mathematics performance compared to their peers who are not eligible.

The study estimates the Covid-19 gap by comparing the attainment outcomes of the pupils in the study, measured by NFER assessments of reading and mathematics, to the attainment outcomes of a representative sample of pupils assessed before the Covid-19 pandemic. The disadvantage gap is estimated by comparing the assessment scores of pupils eligible for FSM and those not eligible to determine the disadvantage gap between these two groups. The study also utilises a repeated measures design, such that the attainment outcomes of the same pupils are compared to their outcomes in the previous academic years. This is used to quantify how the Covid-19 gap and disadvantage gap change over time.

In addition to measuring reading and mathematics attainment, the study also includes a teacher measure of pupils’ social skills for a sub-sample of twelve pupils within each year group in each school. Contextual information about school practices and any catch-up activities being undertaken with pupils is also collected though a survey completed school leaders.

The report covering the first year of the present study (Rose et al. 2022) includes findings from the 2021/22 academic year, when the pupils were in Year 2 and Year 3. It can be found here. The most recent report (Rose et al. 2023) can be found here and is from the 2022/23 academic year, when the pupils were in Year 3 and Year 4. We are currently recruiting for a third wave of this study, which will track the same pupils in Year 4 and Year 5. The research report will be published in Autumn 2024.

  1. Overall, the Covid-19 gap appears to have closed for Year 3 and Year 4 pupils on average in both reading and mathematics. Indeed, in Year 3 reading and Year 4 mathematics there was no significant difference in pupils’ performance compared with the 2017 pre-pandemic standardisation sample (effect size 0.05 and 0.13, respectively) i.e., their reading and mathematics was at a similar level to where we would expect them to be. Moreover, in Year 3 mathematics, pupils were two months ahead and in Year 4 reading, pupils were three months ahead of expectations compared with the 2017 pre-pandemic standardisation sample (effect size 0.16 and 0.25, respectively).
  2. The disadvantage gaps for reading in Spring Term 2023 for Year 3 and Year 4 are both around seven months’ progress. Although disadvantaged pupils scored significantly higher in Spring Term 2023 than in Spring Term 2021, the change in scores was at the same rate as for pupils not eligible for free school meals, i.e., these gaps have not decreased since Spring Term 2021. These gaps remain wider than gaps reported pre-pandemic (in Key Stage 2 data, for example). The disadvantage gaps for mathematics in Spring Term 2023 for Year 3 and Year 4 are both around six month’s progress. These gaps have significantly reduced since we measured them in Spring Term 2021 but remain wider than gaps reported before the pandemic.
  3. Regarding attainment in some specific domains, Year 3 pupils’ performance was similar to, or indeed better than, their pre-pandemic counterparts across a number of domains of learning. However, Year 3 pupils appeared to struggle (and scored lower than their pre-pandemic peers) in giving the meaning of words in context in reading, and in geometry and statistics in mathematics. Year 4 pupils’ performance was higher than, or similar to, their pre-pandemic counterparts across the majority of domains of learning. In reading, there were no domains where pupils appeared to struggle and scored lower; however, in mathematics, they scored lower in geometry.
  4. The vast majority of schools continued with a number of strategies they had developed during the pandemic, including increased wellbeing support, and provision for home learning, which most schools felt they were able to support well. For those schools that reported disruption to learning, the most commonly reported reasons related to pupils’ behaviour and wellbeing (a much more commonly reported challenge than in previous years of our study), and insufficient funding to support pupils who had missed learning. Nearly all schools were prioritising additional support for very low-attaining pupils, and three-quarters were doing so for disadvantaged pupils.
  5. Regarding social skills, on average, the social maturity of pupils in 2022/2023 was not significantly different to that seen in 2021/2022. Most pupils were broadly average in terms of their social maturity, although disadvantaged pupils, and boys, were assessed as having significantly lower social skills than non-disadvantaged pupils and girls, respectively.