This study investigated the impact of school closures for Covid-19 on the attainment of pupils in Key Stage 1 in reading and maths, and on the gap between the attainment of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children. Children of this age are relatively less able to learn independently and therefore could be disproportionately affected by closures. In particular, Year 1 pupils had little reception year schooling, thus, missing out on crucial opportunities to develop socially and emotionally and to prepare for the transition from reception to KS1.
A separate longitudinal study is being conducted to examine the longer-term impact of school closures on attainment and social skills on this cohort of pupils. Details can be found here.
The research, conducted by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER), was carried out over the course of the academic year 2020/21. A total of 12,311 pupils from 168 primary schools (or schools with Key Stage 1) in England took termly assessments (autumn 2020, spring 2021, summer 2021) in reading and maths. Performance on these assessments was compared to the performance of a representative cohort of same-aged pupils on the same assessments in pre-pandemic years.
The study also compared the performance of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to the performance of their non-disadvantaged peers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition, the study investigated schools’ strategies and approaches to learning during closures and reopening for Year 1 and Year 2 pupils. It aimed to determine the parts of the curriculum that children are struggling with, and explored pupils’ social skills and wellbeing.
The main report was published in December 2021. Two interim findings papers were published in January 2021 and July 2021. Three diagnostic reports (published in January 2021 and July 2021) provided potential implications for practice for Year 1 and Year 2. These diagnostic reports looked at Year 1 and Year 2 pupils’ performance in maths and reading to identify common patterns, misconceptions and errors. They are intended to equip teachers with evidence to inform their practice so they can support children’s academic progress, based on the analysis of the responses of the children in the study.
- In summer 2021, children had not yet recovered from the learning they had missed during 2020 and 2021. By the end of the summer term 2021, Year 1 children remained 3 months behind where we would expect them to be in reading. However, there was some recovery in maths, with children being only 1 month behind expectations by the end of the summer term. Year 2 children remained 2 months behind in reading at the end of the summer term, but had recovered to above expected standards in maths. Note, the study used past national curriculum assessment papers for the summer term assessment for Year 2 pupils, as NFER Year 2 assessments cover autumn and spring terms only.
- In both reading and maths, in both year groups, there was a substantial gap in attainment between disadvantaged children and their peers. This was equivalent to around seven months’ progress in the spring of 2021, potentially wider than pre-pandemic levels. For Year 2 pupils, the disadvantage gap increased in mathematics and remained stable in reading between autumn 2020 and spring 2021. However, the disadvantage gap in maths and reading closed slightly for Year 1 pupils between the spring and summer terms 2021.
- Diagnostic analysis suggests that, broadly, the areas of the curriculum that children in both year groups found difficult were the same as those that previous cohorts struggled with pre-pandemic, such as making inferences from complex texts and multiplication and division questions. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to find all parts of the mathematics and reading curriculum harder than their non-disadvantaged peers.
- Due to mixed results and limitations in the measures used, the study was not able to draw firm conclusions on the impact of the pandemic on the social skills and wellbeing of young pupils. Some head teachers and teachers in this study felt that pupils’ social skills and wellbeing were below their previous year’s cohort, citing for example reduced play/interactions with peers and lack of consistent structure as affecting pupils’ social development. However, teachers rated their pupils’ social skills at or above expected levels when compared to norms – this comparison, however, was limited because the norms were derived in Australia and are based on a sample of slightly younger children. This highlights the need for high quality, reliable and valid measures of socio-emotional skills for this age group.