School closures ‘open up chasm’ between pupils

Closing schools will have an impact on pupils’ achievement and the costs of putting this right are likely to be high
- Professor Stephen Gibbons

The closure of schools in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has “opened up a chasm” between pupils with involved parents who attend outstanding schools and children who don’t enjoy such advantages, according to new research.

The study by the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) shows that previous unexpected shutdowns have had a “quite large” impact on children’s education.

The research team’s analysis suggests that a four-week closure could have an impact on students’ achievement equivalent to moving an average child down to the bottom 30 per cent of children. The effect is greater for children in low-income families.

In order to compensate for this dip, schools could make up the lost learning time when they reopen, but the extra time needed will vary by school.

While some schools may be able to make up the effect of each week’s shutdown with two to three hours extra per week over a school year – others may need many more extra hours than is feasible.

The study adds that trying to increase the effectiveness of schools through increasing resources, without increasing instruction time, would cost around £3.4 billion for children at key stage 2 (aged 7 to 11) alone.

The study is the first in a series of CEP Covid-19 briefings. These will provide evidence-based analyses of economic and social questions posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It concludes:

  • Evidence from unexpected temporary school closures and reduced instruction time suggests school closures will reduce educational achievement, both in the short and long term.
  • Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to be affected more than others by school closures, with fewer family resources and less access to online learning resources to offset lost instruction time.
  • In England, the total cost of the resources lost in each week of state school closure is more than £1 billion.
  • Compensating for lost instruction time through additional resources, without additional hours, is likely to be even more expensive.

Professor Stephen Gibbons, director of CEP’s urban and spatial programme, said: “Closing schools will have an impact on pupils’ achievement and the costs of putting this right are likely to be high – and this is without taking into account the mental and physical toll on children of being in lockdown.”

Behind the article