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 the same pupils who were in KS1 (Year 1 & Year 2) during the first partial school closure, for a two further years, once in 2021/2022 when they were in Year 2 and Year 3 and again in 2022/2023 when they are in Year 3 and Year 4. The report covering the results from the first year of two-year follow up (Rose et al. 2022) can be found here here. This report covers the results from the second year of the follow-up.Attainment outcomes of pupils in Year 3 and Year 4 in spring 2023, measured by NFER assessments of reading and mathematics, are compared with attainment outcomes for a representative sample of pupils assessed in 2017 before the Covid-19 pandemic. Additionally, the study utilises a repeated measures design such that the reading and mathematics outcomes from pupils in Year 3 and 4 were compared with their outcomes from the previous academic year, when the same pupils were assessed as part of the previous study whilst in Year 2 and Year 3 (Rose et al. 2022). In addition to measuring reading and mathematics attainment, the study also included 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 the pupils was also collected though a survey completed by 65 headteachers.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.