If the UK government retains any doubts about the scale of the educational challenge it faces after Covid-19, they can now be swiftly swept aside. The challenge is mountainous. New evidence published today by the Education Endowment Foundation, which I chair, starkly reveals the size of it. The study conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research contrasts the performance of 10,000 Year 1 and Year 2 students (six and seven-year-olds) at the end of the most recent lockdown with the performance of those year groups over the same period in 2019.
The findings ought to concentrate minds. Year 1 pupils made on average three months’ less progress for both reading and mathematics this year, compared with the cohort of spring 2019. Year 2 pupils made three months’ less progress for reading in spring 2021 and around two months’ less progress for mathematics. The study also reveals a substantial gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils. In Year 1, for example, there was a gap of around seven months for both reading and maths. Altogether, these are staggering findings.
Helping students to catch up is a massive challenge for teachers – not least because different students will have fallen behind in different ways. The EEF has evaluated numerous programmes designed to enable students to recover from lost learning, and none has been totally successful in closing the differing gaps. But if schools are not supported in their efforts to close this gap, the cost to the country and its finances of this lost talent will be almost unimaginable. Treasury ministers, who last month decided to provide just £1.5bn of the £15bn requested for educational catch-up by their appointed expert Sir Kevan Collins, would do well to think about these EEF findings as they consider whether to find further funds in this Autumn’s spending review.