Education Endowment Foundation:The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s socioemotional well-being and attainment during the Reception Year

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s socioemotional well-being and attainment during the Reception Year

University of York, NIESR and EPI
Implementation cost 
Evidence strengthNot given for this trial
Impact (months)
-
Independent Evaluator
Education Policy Institute
Education Policy Institute logo
NIESR
NIESR logo
University of York
University of York logo

Assessing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on pupil outcomes in Reception

Pupils: 1000 Schools: 75 Grant: TBC
Key Stage: 1 Duration: 1 year(s) 8 month(s) Type of Trial: School Choices
Completed May 2022

It is well established that high quality early years provision plays an important role in a child’s educational and socioemotional development, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds where it can reduce educational inequalities.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the closure of Early Years settings to most children between March and June 2020, with many not returning to settings when lockdown eased in the summer. Children starting school following the first lockdown were doing so after a period of instability and atypical environmental and social experiences. Disruption to education continued through the Autumn term and into Spring term where a third national lockdown closed schools in January – March 2021.

This project aimed to understand the experiences of September 2020 school starters, and if, and how, their experience differed from previous cohorts. It also aimed to give an indication of the factors influencing socioemotional wellbeing and educational outcomes, including experience of the pandemic, home learning activities, family demographics and child socioemotional wellbeing. Finally, the project explored how teaching practices during the Reception year might have changed as a response to the pandemic.

The research, conducted by a team from the University of York, NIESR and EPI, was carried out with Reception pupils over the academic year 2020 – 21. The study involved a total of 94 schools, 1105 families and Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) data for a total of 3253 children. Parent and school surveys were collected within each of the school terms, data from the tablet-based assessment Early Years Toolbox (EYT) was collected as well as EYFSP data.

Survey data suggests both parents and schools perceived that children had been disadvantaged in their socio-emotional wellbeing, language and numeracy skills when entering Reception classes in 2020 due to their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. Although most parents and some schools felt there had been some educational recovery’ achieved by the end of the academic year (2020÷2021), EYFSP data collected from the sample of schools suggests there were less children who achieved a Good Level of Development’ compared to the previous (pre-pandemic) YR cohort (2018÷2019).

The proportion of children in the sample who gained a GLD was 13% smaller than the proportion in the national data in 2018/19. This could equate to around 3 less pupils in an average-sized class reaching a GLD. A smaller proportion of children in the sample achieved at least expected in all five learning areas where the study collected EYFSP data, with Literacy (9.2%) and Maths (8.6%) seeing the largest percentage differences with 2018/19 outcomes. Surveys suggest schools had concerns about children’s PSED (73.6%) and Communication and Language (63.9%) as well as Literacy (73.6%) at the end of year.

A smaller proportion of children eligible for FSM achieved at least expected in all learning areas compared to children not eligible for FSM. However, the percentage difference in outcomes between these groups in our sample and the 2018/19 cohort was minimal. Therefore, FSM eligibility does not seem to explain differences in outcomes.

Children learning EAL, however, do seem differentially affected. The proportion of children learning EAL achieving a GLD in our sample was 16 percentage points smaller than the proportion who achieved GLD in the 2018/19 cohort.

Gender could be an important factor for Literacy and Maths outcomes: the proportion of girls and boys who achieved at least expected in Literacy and Maths in our sample was respectively 10 and 7 percentage points smaller than the proportion for the 2018/19 national sample, indicating girls attainment may have been more affected than boys.

It should be noted that the findings of this study should be interpreted with some limitations in mind, which mainly derived from the unprecedented circumstances in which this study took place. Continued disruption to education in the Autumn term led to only a small sample of schools completing EYT Assessments which prevent tracking children’s progress over the academic year. The third national lockdown in Spring term resulted in the cancelling of the national collection of EYFSP data which meant outcomes from the previous pre-pandemic cohort could only be compared with a sample of school who self-selected to share their data.