4th June 2021

EPI research for the Department for Education on pupil learning loss

The Department for Education (DfE) has published research examining the extent of learning loss among primary and secondary school pupils in England during the spring and autumn terms, at both a national and regional level.

The research, which provides new evidence on the impact of the pandemic on pupils’ school attainment, was carried out by Education Policy Institute (EPI) and Renaissance Learning for the Department.

The data analysis from EPI comprises of two DfE reports, one covering pupil learning loss during the autumn term (2020), and another covering pupil learning loss during the recent spring term (2021):

  • “Understanding Progress in the 2020/21 Academic Year: Complete findings from the autumn term”
  • “Understanding Progress in the 2020/21 Academic Year: Initial findings from the spring term”

The research uses Renaissance Learning’s ‘Star Assessments’ linked to the government’s National Pupil Database

“Learning loss” refers to the months of learning pupils are behind expectations following the pandemic, compared to a typical, pre-pandemic school year.

The findings have been published by the DfE here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/pupils-progress-in-the-2020-to-2021-academic-year-interim-report

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Key findings from the EPI research for the DfE:
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Pupil learning loss at a national level

(Understanding Progress in the 2020/21 Academic Year: Initial findings from the spring term” Figure 8)

Average learning losses for primary school pupils stood at nearly 2 months in reading and over 3 months in maths in the first half of the autumn term, before recovering in the second half of the autumn term, and then returning to similar levels in the spring term:

  • At a national level, by the first half of the autumn term (October 2020), average learning losses were 3.7 months in maths for pupils in primary school and 1.8 months in reading for pupils in primary school.
  • Then, by the second half of the autumn term (December 2020), average learning losses had temporarily recovered to 2.7 months in maths for pupils in primary school and 1.2 months in reading for pupils in primary school.
  • However, by the second half of the spring term (March 2021), following the national lockdown and restrictions to in-person teaching, pupil learning losses had then returned to a similar level as at the start of the autumn term, standing at an average loss of 3.5 months in maths for pupils in primary school and 2.2 months in reading for pupils in primary school.

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Pupil learning loss for disadvantaged pupils (those on free school meals)
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(Understanding Progress in the 2020/21 Academic Year: Complete findings from the Autumn term” Table 1 & Table 2)

Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have been amongst the biggest losers as a result of the pandemic:

  • At a national level, by the first half of the autumn term, average learning losses for disadvantaged pupils were 4.3 months in maths for pupils in primary school and 2 months in reading for pupils in primary school.
  • Then, by the second half of the autumn term average learning losses for disadvantaged pupils recovered to 3.3 months in maths for pupils in primary school and 1.6 in reading for pupils in primary school.
  • EPI findings on losses for disadvantaged pupils in the spring term following restrictions to in-person teaching will be published by the DfE later this year.
  • This analysis provides further evidence that restrictions to in-person teaching following the pandemic have led to a widening of the “disadvantage gap” – the gap in school attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.
  • The relative learning loss for disadvantaged pupils was the equivalent of losing between a third and two-thirds of the progress made over the past decade in closing the disadvantage gap in primary schools. Given further restrictions to in-person teaching during 2020/21, it is likely that the gap could grow further.

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Pupil learning loss at a regional level

(Understanding Progress in the 2020/21 Academic Year: Complete findings from the Autumn term” Table 1 & Table 2)

There is evidence of disparities in learning losses at a regional level (though results should be treated with some caution due to sample sizes). In particular we find that by the first half of the autumn term, average learning losses in reading for pupils in primary school were:

  • 1.5 months in the South West and 1.3 months in London; but
  • 2.3 months in the North East and 2.6 months in Yorkshire and the Humber.

By the second half of the autumn term, average losses in reading for pupils in primary school were:

  • 0.8 months in the South West and 1.7 months in London; but
  • 2.0 months in the North East and 1.7 months in Yorkshire and the Humber.

The full table of regional learning losses in reading can be found here.

 

Whilst sample sizes are smaller for assessments in maths, we still find evidence of wide regional disparities in learning loss by region. Learning losses in the second half of the autumn term were again significantly below average in the South West and in London, and significantly above average in the North East and in Yorkshire and the Humber.

The full table of regional learning losses in maths can be found here.
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EPI findings on regional losses by the spring term following restrictions to in-person teaching will be published by the DfE later this year.

 

 


Notes 

  • EPI and Renaissance Learning have been commissioned by the Department for Education to produce research examining the extent of learning loss experienced by pupils in England as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Learning loss findings for spring 2021 are derived using two separate methodologies, which have produced separate findings. This is because our model for calculating losses factors in pupil prior attainment from previous years, to understand the extent of losses during the pandemic. However, national lockdowns in March 2020 meant that prior attainment data did cover the whole of the 2020 spring term. The findings above for the spring term relate to a “second half of spring term approach”. For further details, see p.7 of today’s spring term report.
  • In analysis covering spring term our methodology was updated to make use of more contextual data becoming available. This can lead to very minor differences in our estimates between the two reports.