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COVID-19: Year 1 pupils have suffered biggest drop in their learning during the pandemic, study suggests

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The UK’s youngest pupils have experienced the biggest drop in their learning during the pandemic and took longer to catch up when they returned to school in September, according to a new report.

Maths was the subject most affected by the disruption to education caused by coronavirus restrictions, according to the largest study into the impact of COVID-19 on primary school pupils.

Researchers at Juniper Education looked at teacher assessments from more than 6,000 primary schools that look after approximately 1.47 million children.

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Children in Year 6, the last year of primary school, closed learning gaps quickly compared with younger pupils

They analysed the numbers of children achieving or exceeding the expected level for their age in reading, writing and maths – and compared these findings with pre-pandemic scores.

The report shows all year groups have struggled, but it is most pronounced for Year 1 pupils aged six and seven. For this year group, the percentage of children achieving or exceeding expectations fell by a quarter.

Frazer Westmorland, the headteacher of Mundella Primary School in Kent, said younger pupils learn “building blocks” skills such as listening and learning in the classroom.

“It means, we need to go back to basics with younger year groups to build these skills before we can help them progress,” he said.

The study also provides yet more evidence that pupils from poorer backgrounds are falling further behind. By summer 2020, it suggests only 43% of disadvantaged children were reading at the expected level, compared with 63% of their peers.

It also looks at how well children’s learning recovered from September to December when primary schools had fully reopened.

Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Newcastle-under-Lyme
An empty classroom is seen at Westlands Primary School, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, Britain, January 4, 2021. REUTERS/Carl Recine
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The study also provides yet more evidence that pupils from poorer backgrounds are falling further behind

Children in Year 6, the last year of primary school, closed learning gaps quickly compared with younger pupils and those with special educational needs.

Report author and former primary head Stephan Nicholls said the findings “make for difficult reading” but should be used to create an “effective recovery plan”.

He added: “This report will help those that work in education understand where the greatest learning losses are so they can effectively direct their teaching when the school gates are fully open again.”

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