The research, commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) to examine pupils’ progress during the autumn and spring terms, found “regional disparities”, with the North East of England and Yorkshire and the Humber seeing higher levels of learning loss than in London and the South West.
By March – when schools reopened after months of remote lessons – pupils’ learning losses nationally in maths and reading had, on average, regressed to similar levels recorded at the start of the autumn term.
The study, by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and Renaissance Learning, found that primary school learning losses in maths averaged 3.5 months in March 2021, compared to 3.7 months in October 2020.
But the learning losses in reading increased, with primary school learning losses averaging 2.2 months in March, compared to 1.8 months during the first half of the 2020/21 autumn term (October).
Sir Kevan Collins resigned on Wednesday as education recovery commissioner as he warned the support package “falls far short of what is needed” to meet the scale of the challenge.
The analysis shows that average learning losses for primary school pupils temporarily recovered by the second half of the autumn term (December 2020) to 2.7 months in maths and 1.2 months in reading.
But it concludes that “there were further learning losses in primary schools in England in reading and mathematics following the restrictions to in-person learning in early 2021”.
Researchers found disadvantaged primary school pupils were hardest hit with average learning losses of 4.3 months in maths and two months in reading during the first half of the autumn term.
There is evidence of disparities in learning losses at a regional level, the report says, but results should be treated with some caution due to sample sizes.
By October, learning losses in reading for primary pupils were 1.5 months in the South West and 1.3 months in London, but 2.3 months in the North East and 2.6 months in Yorkshire and the Humber.
Findings on losses for disadvantaged pupils, as well as regional losses, by the spring term following restrictions to in-person teaching will be published by the DfE later this year, the EPI has said.
Jon Andrews, report co-author and head of analysis at the EPI, said:
“Our data analysis points to a clear penalty faced by disadvantaged pupils during the pandemic – these pupils have seen greater learning losses than their more affluent peers, which risks widening the overall gap in educational attainment.
“There are also significant regional disparities, with regions such as Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East and the East Midlands seeing higher levels of learning loss than pupils in London and the South West.
“We need to continue to look at how we can support all pupils through effective catch-up programmes, but especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, whose education has seen the most damage from the pandemic.
“It’s also important that policies address the large losses seen in certain parts of the country.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the research provides “further stark evidence of the very severe extent of learning loss among pupils”.
“It is abundantly clear that a recovery programme is urgently required at a scale and scope to address this massive issue.
“Instead, we have seen this week a package of measures from the government that is lacking in ambition, inadequately funded and which has caused the education recovery commissioner to resign in protest.
“It has been a desperately bleak week for education, and for the nation’s children and young people, and we once again call upon the Prime Minister and the Treasury to step up and urgently provide the substantial recovery programme that children and young people need and deserve.”