On 4 June 2021 the Department for Education (DfE) updated their research report, investigating pupils’ progress in the 2020 to 2021 academic year.

This research applies to England only and presents ‘findings from analysis into the progress pupils have made during the 2020 to 2021 academic year’ from the disruptions to learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is summarised below:

What timeframe does/will the progress report cover?

The entire report will cover the academic year of 2020 to 2021.

The DfE has released their interim findings, complete findings from the autumn term, and the more recent initial findings from the spring term.

Who conducted this research?

This research was conducted by the Education Policy Institute and Renaissance Learning.

The Education Policy Institute is an ‘independent, impartial and evidence-based research institute that promotes high-quality education outcomes’ and focuses on data-led analysis, research and events.

Renaissance Learning is ‘a leading provider of assessment and practice solutions that put learning analytics to work for teachers’ enabling ‘truly personalised learning’.

What does the report outline?

The report defines a timeline of restrictions to in-person learning during the 2020/2021 academic year. It identifies the following:

20th March 2020

Restrictions to in-person learning begin, except for children of key workers and vulnerable learners.

1st June 2020

Schools reopen for in-person learning for pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6.

September 2020

Schools reopen for in-person learning to all pupils.

Here they identify pupils will have had an estimated learning loss by autumn due to the first period of restrictions.

Any recovery of learning loss would be a result of in-person learning for all pupils during this period.

4th January 2021

Restrictions to in-person learning begin again, except for children of key workers and vulnerable learners.

8th March 2021

The second reopening of in-person learning for all pupils.

Learning loss again has been identified to be the result of restrictions to in-person learning.

How do the researchers calculate and define learning loss?

The report acknowledges that there is no prior attainment data for the 2019/2020 year as most assessments were conducted before the first national lockdown.

They write:

The report measures learning loss in a ‘scaled score’ and in terms of months of progress.

What are the drawbacks of measuring learning loss in this way?

The report identifies the following limitations:

  • The learning loss may be underestimated since the data for 2020/2021 is drawn predominantly from the end of the spring term.
  • The same approach may also overestimate the learning loss compared to those who have just returned to classroom learning after a period away to that of pupils halfway through a school term.

The report acknowledges that ‘learning may not have been truly ‘lost’ [pupils] may simply be out of practice with the material being assessed in comparison to […] control groups’.

Learning loss in Star Reading and Star Maths

The report states the following estimate for scaled score terms for assessments during spring term 2020/2021.

Star Reading

Primary-aged pupils achieved 22.0 scaled score points lower than similar pupils in 2019/2020.

Star Maths

Primary aged pupils achieved a 27.8 scaled score points lower than similar pupils in 2019/2020.

What trends in estimated learning loss does the report identify?

Using the ‘all spring term’ and ‘second half of spring term’ approaches, the report identifies that the analysis suggests further learning loss for English primary schools, particularly in reading following additional restrictions to in-person learning at the beginning of 2021.

The all spring term approach

Primary reading

Primary mathematics

The second half of spring term approach

Primary reading

Primary mathematics

What support is there for schools to combat learning loss?

The government’s catch-up funding has been announced to support teacher training and pupil tutoring.

They are investing a total of £1.4 billion, which includes up to £1 billion to support up to 6 million children and young people with 15-hour tutoring courses.

They will also expand the 16-19 tuition fund that targets key subjects such as maths and English.

Schools and colleges will also be given extra funding to give year 13 pupils the option to repeat their final year. This funding will help accommodate additional student numbers.

Early years practitioners and 500,000 school teachers will benefit from £400 million for training and support.

How The National College can help

The National College has a full programme of webinars that support schools in developing and implementing an effective whole school catch-up strategy, including:

Plus many more.

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