Learning lost to Covid pandemic could harm children’s future pay prospects
Children who do not catch up on learning lost during the pandemic risk lower future earnings, the Government’s spending watchdog has said as it warned of knock-on effects on future economic productivity and growth.
The report by the National Audit Office (NAO) examined Number 10’s flagship National Tutoring Programme, which aims to help pupils catch up on learning lost during the pandemic.
It found that in summer 2021 pupils were, on average, 2.2 months, 0.9 months and 1.2 months behind the level of attainment that would have been expected in primary maths, primary reading and secondary reading.
This compared with 3.6 months, 1.8 and 1.5 months in autumn 2020.
Furthermore, the NAO said that the gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils – who account for around half of those receiving tutoring under the flagship scheme – and other pupils at the end of primary school was 3.23 in 2022, compared with 2.91 in 2019.
The NAO said: “Left unaddressed, lost learning may lead to increased disadvantage and significant missing future earnings for those affected. It is also likely to have adverse impacts on society and the economy, with implications for productivity and growth, particularly if a generation of young people is affected.”
The news came as more than 100,000 members of the National Education Union are expected to go on strike on Wednesday, in the most disruptive teachers’ walkout in more than a decade.
Dr Mary Bousted, the union’s joint general secretary, warned that 85 per cent of schools in England and Wales will be fully or partially closed.
The NAO is calling on the Department for Education (DfE) to use research and evidence to assess education recovery in schools, including whether children have recovered lost learning and whether progress is being made to close the disadvantage gap.
Dame Meg Hillier, the chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, said: “Covid-19 has left its mark on a generation of school children whose education was severely disrupted.
“DfE is not out of the woods in helping pupils to catch up. I am troubled that disadvantaged children continue to have furthest to go to make up lost learning.
“DfE must stay focused on addressing learning loss for all children, as it works to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers, which widened during the pandemic. The long-term cost of failing to do so is huge, for pupils and wider society.
“DfE has an ongoing duty to the children who missed out on education and continue to pay the price.”
Tories accused of ‘abject failure’
Responding to the report, Stephen Morgan, the shadow schools minister, criticised the Conservatives for “failing to deliver a National Tutoring Programme that works – with inevitable results”.
He said: “Now children’s recovery is set to suffer even more because of the Conservative Education Secretary’s abject failure to end the threat of education strikes and come to a settlement with trade unions.
“Labour would have delivered a comprehensive Children’s Recovery Plan enabling every child to bounce back after the pandemic.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Almost three million courses have been started through the National Tutoring Programme, revolutionising the way that targeted support is provided in schools.
“And whilst we’re pleased to see that today’s findings indicate that children are making progress, we know that there is more to do, including working to close the disadvantage attainment gap.
“That’s why we are investing more than £5 billion over the next two years on pupil premium funding to improve the outcomes for disadvantaged pupils across England.”