This post reports on the latest in a series of analyses conducted with RS Assessment from Hodder Education that seek to understand the effects of the pandemic on educational attainment at primary schools across England. This time we've studied the results of around 250,000 tests sat by pupils during the latter part of the 2021 summer term.
We've previously reported on test results from the beginning and end of the 2020 autumn term, as well as at the end of the 2021 spring term. The latest results reported here provide a snapshot of the net effects of school closures and re-openings right up to the end of the 2020-21 academic year. In doing so, they also provide context for the ongoing policy debate about the size and shape of the Westminster government's educational recovery programme.
In broad-brush, qualitative terms, average attainment at the start of the 2020 autumn term (when schools had been largely closed to in-person teaching for around six months) was much lower than for pre-pandemic cohorts. This gap shrank rapidly, though incompletely, by the end of 2020. Following further school closures in early 2021, average attainment had slipped back again when measured towards the end of the 2021 spring term.
So perhaps the biggest question when looking at the current 2021 summer term results is whether or not there was rapid catch-up similar to that seen during the autumn and winter of 2020. Though there were certainly marked improvements virtually across the board, the short answer is 'not really'. In our (SchoolDash's) view, this tends to bolster the case of those who say that rapid educational recovery isn't automatic or inevitable – let alone evenly distributed – once schools reopen. Importantly, there were also considerable variations by subject, year group and socioeconomic status, which suggests that any recovery plan ought to be targeted accordingly.
To provide a bit more detail:
For Years 2 to 6, attainment in reading was close to pre-pendemic levels, but remained lower for younger pupils.
In maths and GPS (grammar, punctuation and spelling), the deficits in attainment for most year groups were smaller at the end of the summer term than in the spring, but with remaining shortfalls, especially in GPS.
Across all subjects younger year groups (KS1) showed the largest drops in attainment and may therefore need the most support on returning to school in September.
Year 6 pupils also showed noticeable shortfalls in maths and GPS, indicating that secondary schools may do well to provide some remedial measures for their new Year 7 cohorts.
The gap in average attainment between those eligible for the Pupil Premium and their peers continued to grow across the majority of year groups and subjects.