There’s no shortage of evidence that the switch to remote learning harmed children’s education. In England, schools (either primary, secondary or both) were closed in at least part of the country for 224 days during the pandemic. Taking the summer holidays into account, that’s almost an entire school year.
Did this unprecedented ‘intervention’ leave a mark on English children’s attainment? It certainly appears so, looking at new statistics published by the Department for Education.
English children’s attainment is assessed at the end of year 6, when they’re 11 years old. The assessment comprises five elements: reading test; maths test; grammar, punctuation and spelling test; writing teacher assessment; and science teacher assessment. No assessment took place in either 2020 or 2021. The summer of 2022 was therefore the first time pupils were assessed since before the pandemic.
The first chart below shows the percentage of students meeting the expected standard in reading, writing and maths. As you can see, there was a 6 percentage point decline from 2019 to 2022 – following an 8 percentage point rise over the preceding five years (though this may be due to grade inflation).
The next chart shows the percentage of students meeting the expected standard in each of the five elements mentioned above. Note: the dashed lines on both charts indicate changes in the assessment frameworks.
In reading, there was a 1 percentage point rise from 2019 to 2022. But in all other elements, there was a decline. The percentage of students meeting the expected standard fell by 9 percentage points in writing; 8 percentage points in maths; 6 percentage points in grammar; punctuation and spelling; and 4 percentage points in science.
These are substantial drops. And they’re likely to reflect real declines in performance, since educators generally have an incentive to overstate, rather than understate, pupil attainment – which usually results in grade inflation.
Of course, without additional information, we can’t know how much of these declines are due to school closures themselves – as opposed to other aspects of the pandemic, like illness and stress. But based on the scholarly literature to date, it’s a good bet that most of them are.
With the record rise in childhood obesity, as well as marked declines in pupil attainment, English children have had a tough couple of years.