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Younger pupils fall behind in maths and reading

A recent piece of research by the Education Endowment Foundation has assessed the impact of disruptions to learning on younger pupils’ reading and maths skills.

The study, by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), looks at data from reading and maths assessments taken by more than 10,000 Key Stage 1 pupils (five to seven-year-olds) from 168 representative schools in the autumn term of 2020 and the spring and summer terms of 2021.

Their attainment was compared with that of a representative sample of Year 1 and 2 children prior to the pandemic to give estimates of the “Covid gap”. It is the final report in the research project and follows two sets of interim findings from this study.

The study finds little progress for Year 1 pupils in reading — attainment in reading was, on average, three months lower in both spring and summer 2021 than pre-Covid levels.

However, while Year 1 pupils were about three months behind previous cohorts in maths in spring 2021, the Covid gap was estimated to be just one month in summer 2021, suggesting that so far, efforts to support education recovery have been effective in maths.

For Year 2 pupils, the Covid gap in reading and maths was three and two months respectively in spring 2021. In summer 2021, Year 2 children were still two months behind in reading but had recovered to above expected standards in maths.

The research also looks at the impact of disruptions to learning on the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates. The analysis shows that in both reading and maths, in both year groups, there was a substantial gap in attainment between disadvantaged children and their peers. This was equivalent to around seven months’ progress in the spring of 2021, and is wider than pre-pandemic levels.

For Year 2 pupils, the disadvantage gap increased in mathematics and remained stable in reading between autumn 2020 and spring 2021. However, the disadvantage gap in maths and reading closed slightly for Year 1 pupils between the spring and summer