Juniper Education report details impact of the pandemic on children's learning with Year 3 pupils among those most affected

Younger children's learning is showing 'no sign' of recovery, according to one of the largest reports into the impact of the pandemic on primary pupils, with boys and girls now in Year 3 among those most affected.

Very small children, disadvantaged pupils and those with special needs are among the pupil groups to have been hardest hit by almost two years of on-and-off school closures, says the Juniper Education National Dataset Report.

Two years ago schools closed to the majority of pupils
Two years ago schools closed to the majority of pupils

It's been two years since the Covid19 pandemic shut school gates to the majority of pupils - triggering significant upheaval for schools, teachers and families up and down the country.

The report, released today, has examined teacher assessment data from over half a million pupils - from more than 6,000 primary schools - looking at the percentage of pupils achieving, or exceeding, what is expected for their age comparing attainment in reading, writing and maths with pre-pandemic levels.

But those behind the investigation say the data shows the pandemic has no doubt 'taken its toll' on children's learning.

By autumn 2021, the number of primary age children working at or above their age-related expectations had not returned to 2019 levels says the report. Maths attainment dropped from 79% of children working at levels expected for their age in 2019 to just 69% in 2021 – a fall of 10 percentage points - while reading dropped from 78% to 70%.

However it is children in Year 3, whose only year of uninterrupted education was in Reception, are among those struggling most with the learning loss. The oldest students examined - now Year 6 pupils - are thought to be showing some small signs of recovery in their learning thanks to a very slight uplift in the last set of attainment figures recorded last autumn.

The report says children now in Year 3 have been among those most affected by the loss of learning
The report says children now in Year 3 have been among those most affected by the loss of learning

Report author and former primary head Stephan Nicholls, who works as an education consultant for Juniper Education, said: "The past two years have been exceptionally disruptive to children's education, and Year 3 children - whose last normal year of schooling was when they were in Reception - have suffered the most from the pandemic.

"While the report brings sobering news, there are glimmers of hope that older children are already taking the first steps towards recovery in their attainment."

Among the masses of data, the report found:

1. Younger children among the most disadvantaged

Year 3 children, says Juniper, who were in Year 1 in 2019, have suffered the biggest drops in their attainment because of learning loss caused by coronavirus lockdowns.

In reading, 82% of Year 3s were working as expected for their age in 2019 but by 2021 that figure had dropped to just 68%. In maths the percentage drop was the same - from 83% in 2019 to 69% in 2021.

Maths, writing and reading attainment levels were all examined
Maths, writing and reading attainment levels were all examined

2. Writing suffered the most

All year groups have seen bigger drops in writing than in the other subjects, says the Juniper report.

With again, the biggest fall in writing attainment among Year 3 pupils, with only 58% of children working where they should be for their age in writing compared with before the pandemic arrived 79% in 2019 – a drop of 21 percentage points.

3. The gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils is now bigger

The gap in attainment between disadvantaged children and their classmates in all years in reading was 15 percentage points in 2019. This had grown to 19 percentage points by the end of 2021.

In maths and writing the gap has widened to 20 percentage points below their non-disadvantaged peers over the course of the pandemic.

Juniper Education has looked at attainment in 2019 and 2021 to see how it compares
Juniper Education has looked at attainment in 2019 and 2021 to see how it compares

4. The SEND gap has widened

The gap between younger children with special educational needs and their classmates has also widened during the pandemic, suggests the data.

For Year 3, the gap in attainment between SEN children and their classmates in reading was 29 percentage points before the pandemic in 2019 but this gap had grown to 45 percentage points by late last year.

Frazer Westmorland, Headteacher at Mundella Primary School in Folkestone said the information provided by the report will be helpful to schools as primaries emerge from the disruption caused by Covid19.

He explained: "This report provides a strong evidence base from which schools can direct their strategy and resources to support the pupils in greatest need, and help them make the most of the years ahead."

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