Impact of school closures on the attainment gap

Education Endowment Foundation (2020) Impact of school closures on the attainment gap: Rapid Evidence Assessment, London: Education Endowment Foundation.
This rapid evidence assessment aimed to examine the potential impact of school closures on the attainment gap, based on a systematic search of existing literature. Eleven studies were identified that provided quantitative evidence about the impact of school closures on attainment gaps. A subset of nine studies provided comparable estimates that could be synthesised.
Although the search included school closures with a range of causes (including due to adverse weather, hurricanes, teacher industrial action and pandemics) the final group of robust estimates all came from studies of summer holidays for primary-aged children.
Key findings and implications
1. School closures are likely to reverse progress made to narrow the gap in the last decade
The projections suggest that school closures will widen the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers, likely reversing progress made to narrow the gap since 2011. The median estimate indicates that the gap would widen by 36%.
However, the estimated rate of gap widening varied substantially between studies, meaning that there is a high level of uncertainty around this average. Plausible “good” and “bad” estimates range from the gap widening from 11% to 75%.
2. Supporting effective remote learning will mitigate the extent to which the gap widens
Pupils can learn through remote teaching. However, ensuring the elements of effective teaching are present – for example through clear explanations, scaffolding and feedback – is more important than how or when lessons or support are provided.
To increase access to teaching, it would also be valuable to test the feasibility of online tuition as a way to supplement the support provided by teachers to disadvantaged children.
3. Sustained support will be needed to help disadvantaged pupils catch up
It is highly likely that the gap will have widened when pupils return to school, even if the strongest possible mitigatory steps are put in place. Catch-up provision, including assessment of lost learning and targeted support, will be essential. However, it is unlikely that a single catch-up strategy will be sufficient to compensate for lost learning due to school closures.
There is a risk that high levels of absence after schools formally reopen poses a particular risk for disadvantaged pupils.

Date Published: 2nd June 2020
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