Researching Learning Loss: findings from the Autumn 2021/22 extension
By Tamsin Moore
It goes without saying that the 2020/21 academic year was incredibly challenging, with a second period of restrictions to in-person learning for the majority of students in Spring, high levels of student and teacher absence throughout, and ongoing restrictions within schools such as bubbles and mask-wearing. These circumstances created strains never seen before in schools.
Now that we are more than halfway through 2021/22, we know that the situation is far from ‘business as usual’ and that many of these strains remain. On top of this, teachers are working diligently to support children who have missed formative moments in both their education and childhood. It may at times feel that the media attention has moved away from the realities being faced by schools, but we recognise that the effects of the pandemic continue to add additional burdens to trusts, schools and staff at all levels.
In light of this ongoing disruption feeding into a third academic year, it felt important to continue our “learning loss” research project with the Education Policy Institute, commissioned by the Department for Education. We are pleased to present the findings from the extension of this research here, looking at data from 2021/22 for the first time. These findings are from the first half of the 2021/22 Autumn term only, and so before the Omicron wave significantly raised school absences, but they offer important insights into the potential longer-term trends which may be developing.
As commented on in our previous blog posts, we are conscious of the limitations of using the term “learning loss,’’ and appreciate that missed learning is perhaps a more accurate representation. Whatever terminology you prefer, it is our hope that in highlighting the reality and variability of pupil attainment, steps towards equitable education recovery can then be taken.
You can find more information about the methodology used in this research within the first research paper, but when we use the term “learning loss” what we are referring to is the difference between where pupils are as a result of the pandemic, compared to where we would expect them to be in a typical, pre-pandemic school year. Such analysis is conducted using 4 years of historical data from Renaissance Star Reading and Star Maths assessments to create projected scores by various sub-groups, (including year, characteristic, region and socioeconomic status), which are then compared with actual achieved scores for those groups.
Key Findings from the first half of Autumn 2021/22:
- Primary reading remains largely unchanged when compared with summer 2021, and on average pupils remain 0.8 months behind where they would be expected to be in a typical pre-pandemic year
- However, secondary aged pupils have seen an increase in total learning loss compared with the summer term, and on average are now 2.4 months behind pre-pandemic expectations
- In primary maths, the gap has reduced between Summer 2021 and Autumn 2021 suggesting a level of recovery has continued into the new academic year. That being said, the overall learning loss remains larger than reading at 1.9 months
Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds
- The gap in learning loss between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers in reading has widened since summer for both primary and secondary pupils
- For primary pupils in maths, there has been a reduction in the difference between learning loss for disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils, yet this gap still remains at 0.4 months
These disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are in addition to the gaps in attainment between these pupils and their more affluent peers which were already prevalent before the pandemic
Region and area-level breakdowns
- Substantial differences remain at a regional level with pupils in the North East, the North West, and Yorkshire and the Humber experiencing greater learning loss in reading for both primary and secondary aged pupils
- In both primary and secondary reading, non-disadvantaged pupils in areas with medium and high levels of deprivation experienced a similar degree of learning loss to disadvantaged pupils in areas with low levels of deprivation
How does this build on the previous releases?
The above graph shows the overall estimates of learning loss since Autumn 2020 showing the findings from each of the reports we have released as part of this joint collaboration. However, it should be noted that in our previous reports we gradually built a picture of the impact of the pandemic over the course of the 2020/21 academic year by restricting our analysis to a consistent group of pupils for whom we had assessment data across the academic year. In our latest report, we analyse the results of all pupils for whom we can calculate a learning loss estimate without applying this condition. This is primarily to ensure sufficient sample sizes but also reflects that the aim of this research is to produce the best estimate of the current situation in schools.
What this graph shows is that for Primary pupils, the overall accumulated learning losses for reading amounts to 0.9 months by summer 2020/21 and 0.8 by autumn 2021/22. For Maths, this was found to be 2.2 months by summer 2020/21 and 1.9 months by autumn 2021/22.
With Secondary pupils, the learning loss was found to be larger in autumn 2021/22 at 2.4 months from 1.2 months in summer 2020/21.
As mentioned, the estimates in the graph above are not directly comparable as they are looking at a different set of pupils. This is shown by the broken line between summer 2020/21 and autumn 2021/22. However, an analysis of a smaller group of students who had tested in both summer 2020/21 and autumn 2021/22 is presented in Chapter 4 of the full report and found no change for Primary reading, a reduction in learning loss of 0.4 months for primary maths, and an increase in learning loss of 0.5 months for secondary reading.
It is also important to acknowledge that the ‘0.0’ in the above graph is not a static point, but instead indicates the expected outcomes of that point in the year. Pupils were still making progress in their learning during the pandemic, it’s just that this was at a lower rate than would be expected in a normal year based on historic progress trends.
So, what can we learn from these findings?
These latest findings provide insight into the potential longer-term trends of COVID disruption by providing a snapshot from the start of the 2021/22 academic year and continue to highlight the variable impacts being seen across the country and by different sub-groups of students. Although there was relatively less disruption in the summer term of 2020/21 and in the first half of Autumn 2021/22, this latest research shows that recovery from the impact of disrupted learning is hard won, and for pupils in secondary and those identified as disadvantaged, the on-going impact is substantial. As mentioned already, it is worth remembering that these findings are also taken before the Omicron wave took hold in England.
There are however positive signs of some groups bucking the trend with significant recovery in primary maths and some regions in primary reading, such as London and the South West, being just 0.3 months behind pre-pandemic expectations. Please note that the regional analysis does rely on smaller sample sizes.
As ever, Renaissance is dedicated to supporting schools, and hope that these insights are helpful to schools as we all continue to navigate through these unusual times. We are also pleased that the outcomes of this research have led to additional funding for parts of the country that seem to be most affected. In line with our mission to accelerate learning for all, our range of practice and assessment solutions for reading and maths will help you identify where the gaps are for your pupils and how to best accelerate their learning in response to disruption. The Scaled Score averages from this research can also be used to benchmark your pupils using Star Reading and Star Maths against these latest national figures. You can find more information on this process in this blog post, including how our Focus Skills could provide a valuable resource in accelerating progress.
If you would like any further support interpreting this research or benchmarking it against your own data, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.