Education Charity Finds that School Closures Hampered Students’ Learning

When it comes to school closures, the Oxford Blavatnik School’s COVID-19 Government Response Tracker codes countries on four-point scale from 0 (“no measures”) to 3 (“require closing all levels”). This measure is accompanied by a “flag” indicating whether closures were required in specific regions or the entire country.

Since the start of the pandemic, the UK has spent 253 days with a rating of 3. This means there have been 253 days on which schools at all levels were closed in at least part of the country. The only European country with more days of school closures is Italy. How have such closures affected students’ learning? 

I’ve already written about two studies which found sizeable negative effects. One, based on data from the Netherlands, found that students made considerably less progress in 2020 than in each of the three preceding years. Another, based on Brazilian data, found that the change in dropout risk was substantially higher in 2020 than in 2019. But what about the UK? 

The Education Endowment Foundation – a charity founded in 2011 – has collated all the best studies on the impact of school closures on students’ learning. As it stands, their list includes six UK studies and seven international studies.

According to the charity, research to date “shows a consistent pattern”. Specifically, students have made “less academic progress” than in previous years, and the attainment gap between more and less advantaged students seems to have grown. 

As to the UK itself, “Studies from NFER, Department for Education and GL assessment show a consistent impact of the first national lockdown with pupils making around 2 months less progress than similar pupils in previous years.”

However, this figure may understate learning losses, given that the relevant studies only examined the impact of the first national lockdown. Looking at the Blavatnik School’s database, the UK has spent more than 100 days with a rating of 3 since October of 2020. 

Why might the attainment gap between more and less advantaged students have grown while schools were closed? There are a number of possibilities, including differences in parental support, access to technology (e.g., high-speed broadband) and the use of private tuition.

Overall, the studies reviewed by the Education Endowment Foundation call the Government’s policy of school closures into serious question. Although there are plans to extend the school day by 30 minutes as a way of helping pupils catch up, it’s unclear whether this will be enough to correct the learning losses that have already been sustained. 

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