24th February 2021

Learning loss research: Understanding progress in the 2020 to 2021 academic year

Evidence on the impact of the pandemic on pupils’ attainment

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) and Renaissance Learning have been commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) to produce research examining the extent of learning loss experienced by pupils in England as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

On the 24th February 2021, the Department for Education published the first report from this ongoing research project, which considers the extent of learning loss among primary and secondary school pupils during the 2020 autumn term.

The analysis is based on the results achieved by pupils in the first half of the 2020/21 autumn term (up to and including 25 October 2020) in comparison to pupils in previous years. The research examines Renaissance Learning’s ‘Star Assessments’, which are frequently used by schools as their baseline assessment for reading and maths.

The research, which is based on more than 400,000 assessments from the current academic year, finds that:

  • By the first half of the 2020 autumn term, pupils had experienced a learning loss of up to two months in reading (in primary and secondary schools), and up to three months in maths (in primary schools).
  • There appear to be some regional disparities in the level of learning loss in reading with pupils in the North East and in Yorkshire and the Humber seeing the greatest losses. However, the differences between regions are relatively small once we control for historic rates of progress in these areas and all regions have experienced losses. 
  • At secondary school level, learning losses in schools that have a high proportion of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were around 50% higher than those schools with very few pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (2.2 months in schools with high rates of free school meal eligibility and 1.5 months in schools with low rates of free school meal eligibility).


FULL REPORT: You can read the DfE report in full here.


EPI and Renaissance will continue to undertake analysis for the Department for Education on the impact of the pandemic on pupil learning loss.

Future published research will consider the effects of learning loss on different pupil groups, and at later periods in the academic year.