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Powered by article titled “Children in most deprived areas suffered greatest loss of learning during lockdowns – ONS” was written by Richard Adams, Education editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 22nd September 2021 15.37 UTC

The youngest primary school pupils and those in the most deprived areas suffered the greatest loss of learning during the pandemic lockdowns that closed schools to most pupils in England, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The ONS analysis found that schools with the highest proportion of children eligible for free school meals (FSM) faced the biggest struggles in teaching remotely during the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, which the agency attributed to lower levels of pupil engagement and communication with teachers, lack of internet access and “social problems” associated with deprivation.

Children aged five to seven, in key stage one, covered the least classroom material, compared with older children who were less reliant on their parents.

“Remote learning was, at best, a partial substitute for in-class teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic, as pupils covered substantially less material when working from home than their peers in the classroom,” the ONS said.

To measure the impact of remote learning, the ONS used survey data from teachers to measure how much learning pupils received, based on the involvement of parents and how much material schools were able to cover compared to how much they were able to teach those in classrooms.

The results show that while secondary school pupils using remote learning were receiving around three-quarters of an equivalent full-time classroom student, those in primary schools received only around half by the end of lockdown. That was despite significant improvement in the amount of learning delivered remotely since the earliest lockdown in April 2020.

But the ONS found that the most consistent differences in learning were seen between schools based on the proportion of pupils receiving FSM.

Teachers at the 25% of schools with the highest proportion of pupils on FSM reported that they were able to cover less material with remote learners. But teachers at schools with the least FSM recipients said the material they had covered was closer to what they were able to cover with in-school learners.

“Although this gap has narrowed slightly in recent months, the cumulative impact on the learning provided to pupils over this period appears to have been considerable,” the ONS said.

Teachers in the most deprived schools also reported lower levels of communication with their pupils, only being in regular contact with an average of 50% of their pupils compared with 67% of those in the least deprived areas.

FSM are available to children whose parents receive benefits including income support, or receive universal credit with a household income excluding benefits of less than £7,400 a year after tax.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “There’s no doubt that the immense effort of schools during lockdown helped to shield the majority of young people from the worst effects of the pandemic. However, the recovery mission now being undertaken will falter if the Treasury is not forthcoming with more investment for schools in the upcoming spending review.

“The prime minister himself promised that no pupil would be left behind as a result of lost learning during the pandemic. That must be the government’s top priority and it must come with additional financial support for schools.”

The ONS also found that remote learning was less effective in the teaching of some subjects than for others. Teachers reported a larger reduction in materials covered by remote learners for arts, including design and technology. Other subjects, such as maths and English, were delivered more successfully, as was physical education. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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