Lockdown 2.0: Engagement with remote education is up but significant poverty gaps remain

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Only one in four working class pupils are undertaking at least five hours a day of learning during the current national Covid-19 lockdown, research has found.

Meanwhile, a third of families on the lowest incomes are still reporting that their children do not have access to sufficient devices to access remote education.

A study from the Sutton Trust reveals that while many more pupils are hitting the five hour mark when compared to the first national lockdown last year, a notable poverty gap remains.

This includes on-going problems with the digital divide and access to devices for the poorest pupils.

The research is based on polling by Teacher Tapp of almost 6,500 teachers as well as research involving almost 900 parents by YouGov.

It shows that almost a quarter (23 per cent) of primary pupils are now doing more than five hours of learning a day, up from one in 10 (11 per cent) at the end of March. For secondary students, this figure has increased from 19 per cent to 45 per cent.

However, while 40 per cent of middle class pupils are receiving five hours of learning a day, this drops to 26 per cent for working class pupils.

Furthermore, 19 per cent of parents overall report their children do not have access to a sufficient number of devices suitable for their online learning, however this rises to 35 per cent for households with the lowest incomes (compared to 11 per cent in households with the highest).

These figures come as the government’s national laptop and tablets programme has now dispatched 801,524 devices to schools and local authorities as of January 17.

However, this compares to figures from Ofcom, which show that 1.78 million children do not have access to a laptop or computer at home (this is nine per cent of all households with children and does not take into account those without sole access to a device).

The poverty gap is also evident in terms of the quality of work that pupils are returning, the Sutton Trust report warns. Fifty-five per cent of teachers at the least affluent state schools report a lower standard of work than expected, compared to 41 per cent at the most affluent state schools and 30 per cent at private schools.

Meanwhile, the YouGov polling reveals that the poorest parents are particularly struggling, with 28 per cent of those on low incomes saying they are finding the second period of school closures more difficult, compared to just 15 per cent of those on the highest incomes.

The Sutton Trust is now calling on the government to make sure that schools are resourced to help those who have lost out on learning the most when schools re-open.

As part of a package of measures, it wants to see a £750m one-off “Pupil Premium boost” that would give schools an additional £400 per eligible pupil.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “This research shows that schools are now better equipped to deliver online teaching. But significant barriers remain that threaten to widen the gap between rich and poor pupils still further.

“The immediate priority has to be to address the gap in digital provision between rich and poor. The government has made good progress, but they need to do more. There also has to be substantial additional funding for schools when they re-open, focused on students from low-income backgrounds who have fallen even further behind.”

Commenting on the findings, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools have worked incredibly hard to develop remote education and are in a completely different place than they were during the first lockdown when they had to suddenly provide remote learning for millions of children from scratch. This research from the Sutton Trust shows the enormous progress that has been made since then.

“However, remote education is simply not a substitute for classroom teaching because of problems such as how much time parents have available to help their children, and lack of access to laptops. Often it is the most disadvantaged children who are further disadvantaged.

“It is pretty clear from this research that there are still significant gaps in laptop provision despite the government’s programme to provide devices to disadvantaged youngsters. The government was too slow to respond to this issue earlier in the crisis, and we are not sure it has ever really got to grips with the level of need.

“It has also been very poor on supporting schools and colleges financially, handing out catch-up money with one hand, while refusing to reimburse them for coronavirus safety measures on the other hand. It must now live up to its refrain that education is a national priority by providing additional investment to schools and colleges to help support children following this latest lockdown.”


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