Covid: Youngest pupils hardest hit by lockdown and slowest to recover

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Emerging evidence suggests that pupils in year 1 could be among those whose learning and progress has been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Analysis shows that younger children also took longer to recover their lost learning when they returned to school in September last year.

The National Dataset Report (Nicholls, 2021) examines teacher assessment data from more than 6,000 primary schools representing 1.47 million pupils.

It looks at the percentage of pupils achieving or exceeding age-related expectations for years 1 to 6 in reading, writing and maths and compares these to pre-pandemic levels. It also examines the impact of the return to school during the autumn term on learning.

The report reveals that all year groups have struggled to reach age-related expectations. However, the youngest children saw the most significant drop.

Prior to the pandemic, 82 per cent of year 1 pupils achieved age-related expectations in reading, 79 per cent in writing, and 83 per cent in maths. But by the summer term 2020, these percentages had dropped to 60, 54, and 59 per cent respectively.

Unsurprisingly, disadvantaged pupils fared worse across all year groups. By summer 2020 across all primary year groups 43 per cent of Pupil Premium pupils had met expectations for reading compared to 63 per cent of non-disadvantaged groups. For writing it was 36 vs 55 per cent. For maths it was 41 vs 61 per cent.

During the autumn term, pupils who struggled most to recover their lost learning included the youngest children (in Reception, key stage 1), SEN pupils and disadvantaged pupils.

The report also finds that mathematics was the subject most affected in terms of learning loss.

Commenting on the report, which has been published by Juniper Education, Frazer Westmorland, headteacher of Mundella Primary School in Kent, said: “Younger pupils have certainly been the most affected from their time away from the classroom. A lot of skills such as how do I learn, listen and collaborate are developed at school. They provide the building blocks which allow for progress in learning.

“Many children have had fewer opportunities to embed these skills at home. It means, we need to go back to basics with younger year groups to build these skills before we can help them progress.”

The report finds that older age groups made up the most lost ground on the return to school in September, especially in year 6 where 74 per cent achieved age-related expectations in reading by Christmas, 67 per cent in writing and 71 per cent in maths – just a few percentage points behind 2019 pre-pandemic levels.

Report author and former primary head, Stephan Nicholls, said: “To put an effective recovery plan in place, we must know which children have suffered the most from the pandemic. This report will help those that work in education understand where the greatest learning losses are so they can effectively direct their teaching when the school gates are fully open again.

“Although the report will make difficult reading for many, there is hope in these findings too. It will be a huge comfort to parents to know that when children are back in front of their teachers, they can make up for lost time. But we must make sure that children with additional barriers to learning are given extra support so they are not left behind.”


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