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There can be no “levelling up” without education recovery

IOE Editor3 June 2021

This blog post first appeared on the University of Bristol Economics blog.

Simon Burgess, June 2021

Yesterday saw the resignation of Sir Kevan Collins, leading the Government’s Education Recovery Programme. The pandemic has hit young people very hard, causing significant learning losses and reduced mental health; the Recovery Programme is intended to rectify these harms and to repair the damage to pupils’ futures. His resignation letter labelled as inadequate the Government’s proposal: “I do not believe that it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size.”

The rejection of this programme, and the offer of a funding package barely a tenth of what is needed, is hard to understand. It is certainly not efficient: the cost of not rectifying the lost learning is vastly greater than the £15billion cost (discussed below). And it is manifestly unfair, for example when compared to the enormous expense incurred to look after older people like me. The vaccination programme is a colossal and brilliant public undertaking; we need something similar to protect the futures of young people. We have also seen educational inequality widen dramatically across social groups: children from poorer families have fallen yet further behind. If we do not have a properly funded educational recovery programme, any talk of “levelling up” is just noise.

Context – Education recovery after learning loss

An education recovery plan is urgently needed because of all the learning lost during school closures. For the first few months of the pandemic and the first round of school closures, we were restricted to just estimating the learning loss. Once pupils started back at school in September, data began to be collected from online assessment providers to actually measure the learning loss. The Education Endowment Foundation is very usefully collating these findings as they come in. The consensus is that the average loss of learning is around 2-3 months, with the most recent results the most worrying.  Within that average, the loss is much greater for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the loss is greater for younger pupils. To give only the most recent example, the latest data shows that schools with high fractions of disadvantaged kids saw falls in test scores twice as severe as those in low-poverty schools, and that Year 1 and Year 2 pupils experienced much larger falls in attainment. Government proposals for “Recovery” spending for precisely these pupils would be next to nothing, as Sir Kevan Collins notes in his Times article today: “The average primary school will directly receive just £6,000 per year, equivalent to £22 per child”.

The Government’s proposals amount to roughly £1 billion for more small-group tutoring and around £500m for teacher development and training. I am strongly in favour of small-group tutoring, but the issue is the scale: this is nowhere near enough. It is widely reported that Sir Kevan Collins’ estimate of what was required was £15 billion, based on a full analysis of the lost learning and the mental health and wellbeing deficits that both need urgent attention. For comparison, EPI helpfully provide these numbers on education recovery spending: the figure for England is equivalent to around £310 per pupil over three years, compared to £1,600 per pupil in the US, and £2,500 per pupil in the Netherlands.

Why might the programme have been rejected? Here are some arguments:

“It’s a lot of money”

It really isn’t. An investment of £15bn is dwarfed by the cost of not investing. Time in school increases a child’s cognitive ability, and prolonged periods of missed school have consequences for skill growth. We now know that a country’s level of skills has a strong (causal) effect on its economic growth rate. This is a very, very large scale problem: all of the 13 cohorts of pupils in school have lost skills because of school closures. So from the mid-2030s, all workers in their 20s will have significantly lower skills than they would otherwise have. And for the 40 years following that, between a third and a quarter of the entire workforce will have lower skills. Lost learning, lower skills, lower economic growth, lower tax revenues. Hanushek and Woessman, two highly distinguished economists, compute this value for a range of OECD countries. For the UK, assuming that the average amount of lost learning is about half a year, their results project the present discounted value of all the lost economic growth at roughly £2,150 billion (£2.15 trillion). Almost any policy will be worthwhile to mitigate such a loss.

“Kids are resilient and the lost learning will sort itself out”

This is simply wishful thinking. We should not be betting the futures of 7 million children on this basis. Economists estimate the way that skills are formed and one key attribute of this process can be summarised as “skills beget skills”. One of the first statements of this was Heckman and co-authors, and more recent researchers have confirmed this, and also using genetic data. This implies that if the level of skills has fallen to a lower level, then the future growth rate of skills will also be lower, assuming nothing else is done. It is also widely shown that early investments are particularly productive. Given these, we would expect pupils suffering significant learning losses to actually fall further behind rather than catch up. Sir Kevan Collins makes exactly this point in his resignation letter: “learning losses that are not addressed quickly are likely to compound”.

Perhaps catch-up can be achieved by pupils and parents working a bit harder at home? There is now abundant evidence from many countries including the UK that learning at home is only effective for some, typically more advantaged, families. For other families, it is not for want of trying or caring, but their lack of time, resources, skills and space makes it very difficult. The time for home learning to make up the lost learning was March 2020 through March 2021; if it was only patchily effective then, it will be less effective from now on.

“There’s no evidence to support these interventions”

This is simply not true, as I set out when recommending small-group tutoring last summer. There is abundant evidence that small-group tutoring is very effective in raising attainment. There is also strong evidence that lengthening the school day is also effective.

Conclusion

This blog is less scientifically cold and aloof than most that I write. I struggle to make sense of the government’s proposals to provide such a half-hearted, watered-down recovery programme, to value so lightly the permanent scar on pupil’s futures. The skills and learning of young people will not magically recover by itself; the multiple blows to mental health and wellbeing will not heal if ignored. The Government’s proposal appears to have largely abandoned them. To leave the final words to Sir Kevan Collins: I am concerned that the package announced today betrays an undervaluation of the importance of education, for individuals and as a driver of a more prosperous and healthy society.

Vaccine hesitancy in children and young adults in England

IOE Editor17 March 2021

By Patrick Sturgis, Lindsey Macmillan, Jake Anders, Gill Wyness

Children and young people are, mercifully, at extremely low risk of death or serious illness from the coronavirus and, for this reason, they are likely to be the last demographic in the queue to be vaccinated, if they are vaccinated at all. Yet, there are good reasons to think that a programme of child vaccination against covid-19 will eventually be necessary in order to free ourselves from the grip of the pandemic. In anticipation of this future need, clinical trials assessing the safety and efficacy of existing covid-19 vaccines on young people have recently commenced in the UK.

While children and young people experience much milder symptoms of covid-19 than older adults, there is currently a lack of understanding of the long-term consequences of covid-19 infection across all age groups and there have been indications that some children may be susceptible to potentially severe and dangerous complications. Scientists also believe that immunisation against covid-19 in childhood may confer lifetime protection (£), reducing the need for large-scale population immunisation in the future.

Most importantly, perhaps, vaccination of children may be required to minimise the risk of future outbreaks in the years ahead. If substantial numbers of adults refuse immunisation and the vaccines are, as seems likely, less than 100% effective against infection, vaccination of children will be necessary if we are to achieve ‘herd immunity’.

We now know a great deal about covid-19 vaccine hesitancy in general populations around the world from a large and growing body of survey and polling data and, increasingly, from actual vaccine uptake. Much less is known, however, about vaccine hesitancy amongst children and younger adults. Here, we report preliminary findings from a new UKRI funded survey of young people carried out by Kantar Public for the UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunity (CEPEO) and the London School of Economics. The survey provides high quality, representative data on over 4000 young people in England aged between 13 and 20, with interviews carried out online between November 2020 and January 2021. Methodological details of the survey are provided at the end of this blog.

Respondents were asked, “If a coronavirus vaccine became available and was offered to you, how likely or unlikely would you personally be to get the vaccine?”. While the majority (70%) of young people say they are likely or certain to get the vaccine, this includes 25% who are only ‘fairly’ likely. Worryingly, nearly a third express some degree of vaccine hesitancy, saying that they either definitely won’t get the vaccine (9%) or are that they are not likely to do so (22%).

Although there are differences in question wording and response alternatives, this represents a substantially higher level of vaccine hesitancy than a recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey of UK adults, which found just 6% expressing vaccine hesitancy, although this rose to 15% amongst 16 to 29 year olds.

Differences in vaccine hesitancy across groups

 We found little variation in hesitancy between male and female respondents (32% female and 29% male), or between age groups. However, as can be seen in the chart below, there were substantial differences in vaccine hesitancy between ethnic groups. Black young people are considerably more hesitant to consider getting the vaccine than other ethnic groups, with nearly two thirds (64%) expressing hesitancy compared to just a quarter (25%) of those who self-identified as White.  Young people who identified as mixed race or Asian[1] expressed levels of hesitancy between these extremes, with a third (33%) of mixed race and 39% of Asian young people expressing vaccine hesitancy. This ordering matches the findings for ethnic group differences in the ONS survey, where 44% of Black adults expressed vaccine hesitancy compared to just 8% of White adults.

To explore potential sources of differences in vaccine hesitancy, respondents were asked to state their level of trust in the information provided by a range of different actors in the coronavirus pandemic. The chart below shows wide variability in expressed levels of trust across different sources between ethnic groups, but most notably between Black young people and those from other ethnic groups. Young people self-identifying as Black were considerably less likely to trust information from doctors, scientists, the WHO and politicians and more likely to trust information from friends and family than those from other groups. Although in terms of overall levels, doctors, scientists and the WHO are most trusted across all groups. Encouragingly, only 5% of young people say they trust information from social media, a figure which was consistently low across ethnic groups.

We also find evidence of a small social class gradient in vaccine hesitancy, with a quarter (25%) of young people from families with at least one parent with a university degree[2] expressing vaccine hesitancy compared to a third (33%) of young people with no graduate parent.

We can also compare levels of vaccine hesitancy according to how young people scored on a short test of factual knowledge about science. [3]  Vaccine hesitancy was notably higher amongst respondents who were categorised as ‘low’[4] in scientific knowledge (36%) compared to those with ‘average’ (28%), and ‘high’ (22%) scientific knowledge. This suggests that vaccine hesitancy may be related, in part, to the extent to which young people are able to understand the underlying science of viral infection and inoculation and to reject pseudoscientific claims and conspiracy theories.

How much are differences in vaccine hesitancy just picking up underlying variation between ethnic groups in scientific knowledge and broader levels of trust? In the chart below, we compare raw differences in vaccine hesitancy for young people from the same ethnic group, sex, and graduate parent status (blue plots) with differences after taking account of differences in scientific knowledge and levels of trust in different sources of information about coronavirus. The inclusion of these potential drivers vaccine hesitancy do account for all of the differences between ethnic and social class groups. While Black young people are around 40 percentage points more likely to express vaccine hesitancy than their White counterparts, this is reduced to 33 ppts when comparing Black and White young people with similar levels of scientific knowledge and (in particular) levels of trust in sources of coronavirus information.

Our survey shows high levels of vaccine hesitancy amongst young people in England, which should be a cause for concern, given the likely need to vaccinate this group later in the year. We also find substantial differences in hesitancy between ethnic groups, mirroring those found in the adult population, with ethnic minorities – and Black young people in particular – saying they are unlikely or certain not to be vaccinated. These differences seem to be related to the levels of trust young people have in different sources of information about coronavirus, with young Black people more likely to trust information from friends and family and less likely to trust health professionals and politicians.

There are reasons to think that actual vaccine take up may be higher than these findings suggest. First, Professor Ben Ansell and colleagues have found a decrease in hesitancy amongst adults between October and February, a trend which was also evident in the recent ONS survey.  It seems that hesitancy is declining amongst adults as the vaccine programme is successfully rolled out with no signs of adverse effects and this trend may also be evident amongst young people. Given that parental consent will be required for vaccination for under 18s, it may be the case that parental hesitancy is as important for take up.

There may also have been some uncertainty in our respondent’s minds about what is meant by ‘being offered’ the vaccine, given there were no vaccines authorised for young people at the time the survey was conducted and no official timetable for immunisation of this group. Nonetheless, this uncertainty cannot explain the large differences we see across groups, particularly those between White young people and those from ethnic minority groups.

If the vaccine roll out is to be extended to younger age groups in the months ahead, we will face a considerable challenge in tackling these high levels of and disparities in vaccine hesitancy.

 

*Methodology*

The UKRI Covid-19 funded UCL CEPEO / LSE survey records information from a sample of 4,255 respondents, a subset of the 6,409 respondents who consented to recontact as part of the Wellcome Trust Science Education Tracker (SET) 2019 survey. The SET study was commissioned by Wellcome with additional funding from the Department for Education (DfE), UKRI, and the Royal Society. The original sample was a random sample of state school pupils in England, drawn from the National Pupil Database (NPD) and Individualised Learner Record (ILR). To correct for potentially systematic patterns of respondent attrition, non-response weights were calculated and applied to all analyses, aligning the sample profile with that of the original survey and the profile of young people in England. Our final sample consists of 2,873 (76%) White, 208 (6%) Black, 452 (12%) Asian, 196 (5%) Mixed, and 50 (1%) Other ethnic groups.  The Asian group contains respondents who self-identified as Asian British, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese or ‘other Asian’.

 

[1] Respondents in the Asian category are a combination of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese or ‘other Asian’ origin.

[2] We have not yet liked the survey data to the National Pupil Database and Individualised Learner Records which will enable us to use an indicator of eligibility for free school meals and IDACI. Currently we use parent graduate status as a proxy for socio-economic status.

[3] Once the survey is linked to the National Pupil Database we will be able to look across a wider range of measures of school achievement.

[4] There were ten items in the quiz, ‘low’ knowledge equated to a score of 5 or less, ‘average’ knowledge to a score of 6 to 8, and ‘high’ knowledge to a score of 9 or 10. Note that this test was administered in the previous (2019) wave of the survey.

This work is funded as part of the UKRI Covid-19 project ES/V013017/1 “Assessing the impact of Covid-19 on young peoples’ learning, motivation, wellbeing, and aspirations using a representative probability panel”.

How big is the challenge due to Covid-19 education disruption, and what can be done about it

IOE Editor23 February 2021

By Lindsey Macmillan, Jake Anders, Gill Wyness

 8th March 2021 will be the date that all children return to in-person schooling after another 8 weeks of absence for the majority. This is just short of a full year since schools first had to close their doors back on 20th March 2020. Of course, schools have been open throughout to critical workers’ and vulnerable children but, for most, there has been a return to home learning, and all of the difficulties that come with it. In this post, we consider the scale of the challenge that we are likely to face given the disruption to education that has been experienced over the past year, and what policymakers might do to mitigate these effects.

There can be little overstating of the sheer magnitude of the challenge that we face in recovering the huge amount of learning loss. There are three main points to make here from the evidence:

First, the emerging evidence from lockdown one is showing large learnings losses and big impacts on socio-emotional development. A recent study from EEF and NfER found that on average Year 2 children were two months behind in Autumn 2020 compared to previous cohorts. Another study by Juniper Education found that the number of children achieving at expected levels in primary school had fallen by one fifth in 2020 compared to 2019. Recent evidence from ImpactEd showed that the pandemic has also had a negative impact on children’s socio-emotional outcomes. And the modelling of the impact of this for the future economy is bleak. There are a range of estimates here, but they start in tens of billions and go into the trillions of pounds in lost earnings and growth due to lost learning.

Second, these average effects are masking big differences across groups. We know that younger and disadvantaged children have seen the biggest impacts. Disadvantaged children are 7 months behind where previous cohorts were at the same stage, compared to the average of 2 months. They also made the slowest progress in the autumn term, suggesting catch up efforts are not doing enough to tackle these differential effects. These greater educational losses also suggests future earnings losses will be particularly pronounced for this group, exacerbating inequality for a generation to come. As well as losses affecting certain types of pupils differentially, we are also seeing differences by skill type: while we see losses in learning across the range of key skills, they are more evident in maths in primary school.

Third, and crucially, these findings are all based on evidence from before this most recent lockdown. There is good reason to expect that differential learning losses will have worsened during the current lockdown – inequalities will have widened further. Why is that? Well while most pupils had relatively limited access to online learning in lockdown 1, this time around the picture is quite different. Online provision has improved, but not all will have been able to take full advantage of this. There are multiple barriers to home learning for disadvantaged pupils. While some of the more obvious barriers have been ameliorated by policy – laptops have been sent out, internet resources have been provided – there are many barriers that schools and DfE cannot mitigate. These include a lack of physical space to sit and work, different levels of parental confidence, different parental abilities to engage with the material to help children, and different skills to access the multiple online platforms required. Taken together this implies that, unfortunately, we are likely to see even larger inequalities in learning losses when children return to their classrooms.

What policy responses are required to mitigate these impacts?

Given the likely scale and nature of the task, this isn’t going to be easy. A key question for policymakers here is ‘What are we trying to do?’ Are we aiming to work our way back to pre-pandemic levels of skills and achievement, taking those stubborn inequalities in skills that we saw prior to all of this as given? Are we merely trying to reduce new levels of inequalities? Or are we thinking about reframing what our education system should be doing? The policy responses are very much dependent on the answer to those questions.

There is some very good evidence that small group and one-to-one tuition is an effective intervention for aiding pupil progress. As such it’s heartening that money has been invested accordingly subsidising a range of offerings in this space – this is a great example of evidence-led policy-making. But challenges remain. As the pandemic goes on – and given the likely further impact of the most recent closures – we need to ensure this resource is both adequately funded and targeted.

But given what we know about skill development, and rates of progress made in the autumn term, is this going to be enough? There are understandable concerns about wellbeing and play-based approaches should be prioritised for younger children. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be something that will be a quick fix – we need to track data on progress and the impact of interventions, and keep coming back to this issue in the medium to long-term to adjust the policy design in response to what the evidence tells us here.

Finally, the wider evidence supports the need for high-quality inputs: investing in teachers and teaching assistants, ensuring that financial incentives are targeted in the places and subject areas where we need them, and bringing senior leaders and the teacher workforce along in this process is going to be vital for recovery. Therefore, serious caution is needed here when discussing ideas such as extending school days or cutting holidays.

In the long run, we need to ensure that schools have the resources required to tackle the challenges they face. At times of great crisis comes great opportunity – the end of the Second World War saw the introduction of Free School Meals – and this might be the time to re-think fundamentally how we cater for those most at need across the education system, rebalancing funding and high-quality inputs accordingly to achieve this aim.

How can policy-makers and parents support home learning during lockdown?

IOE Editor27 January 2021

This article first appeared on the Economics Observatory

By Dr. Laura Outhwaite, CEPEO Research Fellow 

With schools again closed, disadvantaged children need laptops and internet connections to access remote education. Parents can support home learning by making their children’s wellbeing the priority and focusing on the quality of learning experiences, not the quantity.

In January 2021, schools in the UK have again switched to online learning for most children, due to the resurgence of Covid-19 across the country. Consequently, there is a renewed emphasis on ensuring that children receive the best possible education while staying at home.

There are concerns that the impact of further school closures will disproportionately affect some children, such as those from lower socio-economic backgrounds (Eyles and Elliot Major, 2021). Data from before Covid-19 show that mothers’ education is strongly associated with increased parental investments in educational resources, such as toys and books in the home, and higher family income. These factors are significantly associated with children’s academic outcomes (Macmillan and Tominey, 2019).

During the pandemic, families with lower incomes are also more likely to face challenges providing their children with a high-quality learning environment for reasons including less physical space, less access to computers, and slower and less reliable internet connectivity.

While some of these challenges are especially difficult to overcome, such as limited physical space, policy-makers should be doing all they can to take action where possible, notably ensuring that all children have access to suitable laptop computers and a reliable internet connection that allows them to engage effectively with online learning resources and virtual lessons that schools are now required to provide.

Families are also facing unprecedented challenges with balancing children’s schoolwork alongside the demands of parents’ jobs and other stresses related to the pandemic. Consequently, parents should be assured that they are providing a good quality home learning environment by looking after their children’s wellbeing, providing access to a broad range of resources, and focusing on quality, rather than quantity.

What should policy-makers do?

Statistics from a representative survey conducted online of families with school-aged children in England during the pandemic emphasise a ‘digital divide’ in access to technological devices for home learning. Results show that around 15% of primary school-aged children and 20% of secondary school-aged children in the poorest third of families, based on household income, have no access to a computer or tablet device for schoolwork, compared with approximately 5-10% of children in the richest third of families (Institute for Fiscal Studies, IFS, 2020).

Similar survey data on teachers show only 10% reporting that all their pupils have access to the internet. This figure varies significantly by pupil background, with 5% of state school teachers reporting that all their children have access to the internet, compared with 51% of private school teachers (Sutton Trust, 2021). These data collected via teachers can be considered a more reliable estimate of children’s internet access, as many family surveys are conducted online and may therefore be unintentionally biased to households with adequate resources already in place.

To date, the government has failed to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, have access to the appropriate technology resources to engage with online learning. In April 2020, in response to the first lockdown, the Department for Education announced a £85 million rollout of 200,000 laptops for disadvantaged children to support learning from home. This figure falls short of the 540,000 children calculated to be eligible for the scheme by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner based on the Department for Education’s published criteria.

Moreover, by mid-June 2020, only 115,000 devices had been delivered to local authorities or academy trusts for distribution to children (IFS, 2020). This implies that only 21% of disadvantaged children were provided with access to the technological support that they need to learn from home by this point. Little progress has been made since then, with widespread reports from schools of failures from the government in meeting their proposed targets.

During the current lockdown, the Department for Education announced further laptop provision aiming to reach more than one million children and young people by April 2021. But this still leaves substantial time during which some disadvantaged children will not be able to access resources, with the risk that these children will fall further behind. To ensure that children are able to access the remote learning that schools are providing, regardless of their background, it is imperative that these targets are met efficiently and effectively.

Providing access to a reliable internet connection also remains an unresolved issue. According to current Department for Education guidance, disadvantaged families may be able to access increases in mobile data, free of charge, if they are customers of selected telecoms providers and must request access via their school or local authority.

Critics argue that this approach increases the administrative burden for schools and suggest that universal zero-ratings for educational content, such as Oak National Academy, would be more effective than making disadvantaged families ask for handouts. Internet providers have since highlighted challenges of zero-rating educational resources, as content is often hosted on external sources, such as YouTube.

Regardless of these challenges, children still need to access online learning if the negative effects of the pandemic on their education are to be mitigated. Policy-makers should be taking the lead on co-ordinating effective action in ensuring that all children, regardless of their background, have equitable and reliable access to learning at home.

What can parents do?

Research carried out during the first lockdown in England found that children spent, on average, 4.5 hours a day on educational activities, including online classes, other schoolwork, private tutoring and other educational activities. This is a 25% reduction in learning time for primary school pupils and a 30% reduction for secondary school pupils compared with children’s usual routine, as measured using comparable data from 2014/15 (IFS, 2020).

Another nationally representative survey highlights that 81% of children with limited access to appropriate technology and study space, and 52% of those eligible for pupil premium funding, are less engaged in remote learning, compared with their classmates (National Foundation for Educational Research, NFER, 2020).

Nevertheless, working parents, particularly mothers, report that the home schooling that did occur during the first lockdown placed significant demands on their time, as they attempt to achieve a balance between work and supporting their children’s learning (Doyle, 2020Anders et al,2020). Overall, these data suggest that the school closures during lockdown may widen educational inequalities, based on who can access the educational resources and parental support that they need for home learning.

Given such time pressures and the stressful context that lockdown can bring, it is important for parents to make a priority of their children’s wellbeing and focus on the quality of home learning experiences and interactions, rather than worrying about a shortfall in quantity.

For parents who now find themselves taking on the role of teachers, it is important to focus on children’s mental health and wellbeing, as studies show their fundamental importance for learning and development (Panayiotou et al, 2019).

Recommendations from the Child Mind Institute suggest the idea of a ‘developmental checklist’, which includes questions such as: ‘is my child sleeping enough and eating a somewhat balanced diet?’; ‘are they getting some form of exercise every day?’; ‘are they getting some quality time with family?’; and ‘do they use some screen time to keep in touch with friends?’. Establishing and keeping a daily routine that meets the needs of an individual family is also recommended best practice.

Several other organisations – such as Oak National Academy, the National Literacy Trust, the Children’s Commissioner and Emerging Minds – also have useful and evidence-based online resources to support parents and their children during the pandemic.

There are also several key areas where parents might focus their efforts to enrich learning experiences for their children at home, mindful of their own time constraints. For example, educational apps can benefit children’s learning outcomes (Griffith et al, 2020Madigan et al,2020): educational technologies that are ‘gamified’ and child-centred are also particularly beneficial, especially for children’s motivation and enjoyment (Lai and Bower, 2019).

Research also shows that children can successfully use educational apps independently (Outhwaite et al,2019) and so may be a useful tool when parents need to focus on other things. In terms of when and where parents can provide support, some studies highlight that co-viewing technology-based content with young children is beneficial, (Madigan et al, 2020), especially if children are still developing their language skills (Outhwaite et al, 2020).

While there are many school and technology-based solutions, parents should also remember that home learning does not always have to be working through a worksheet or engaging with an educational app. Research shows informal, everyday learning experiences also significantly benefit young children, in terms of their conceptual knowledge and language skills. Such activities include cooking and playing card or board games for maths (Zhang et al, 2020), and reading together, writing postcards and notes, such as shopping lists, for reading and writing (Meyer et al, 2017).

For older children, reading a broad range of texts, including fiction books may also be good for improving their future educational outcomes (Jerrim and Moss, 2018). In terms of downtime, parents should not worry if their children like to spend time on computer games as there is evidence that some games can support their spatial and mathematical abilities (Bos et al, 2014). They can also support children’s wellbeing and feeling of connection with their peers, which is particularly important when they are unable to spend time together in person (Johannes et al, 2020).

Conclusions

Home learning during Covid-19 remains a challenge for all involved. It is imperative that policy-makers deliver on their provision of laptop computers and take a lead on providing reliable internet access for disadvantaged children. This will ensure that all children, regardless of their background, have equitable access to online learning resources and the virtual lessons that schools are now required to provide.

Parents can also support their children by making a priority of their own and their children’s wellbeing and by not stressing about the small things – learning is important, but school is about so much more than maths and reading, and this can be reflected in their home experiences.

Where can I find out more?

Who are experts on this question?

  • Laura Outhwaite, Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, UCL, London
  • Lindsey Macmillan, Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, UCL, London
  • Jake Anders, Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, UCL, London
  • Jo Van Herwegen, Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, UCL, London

What has been the effect of Covid-19 on Early Years providers and what should the government do about it?

IOE Editor24 July 2020

By Dr. Jake Anders and Dr. Laura Outhwaite

It is estimated that 2.1 million children under the age of 5 access Early Years care. These early years of a child’s life are fundamental to their development, learning, and later life outcomes. Children who receive high-quality early education and care, and have a good level of development by age 5 years, go on to achieve good levels of academic achievement at age 7 and beyond. As such, high-quality early years provision is vital to addressing educational inequalities and has benefits for wider society and the economy. For every £1 invested in quality early education and care, £13 in future costs is saved for UK taxpayers.

In England, early education and care is provided by multiple stakeholders including group-based providers (66%), school-based nurseries (20%), and childminders (14%). Despite the range of benefits to the child and society, research shows Early Years workers are widely underpaid and undervalued: research carried out by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) before the Covid-19 pandemic found that the mean average hourly salary ranged from £8.30 in group-based provision to £15.10 for reception staff. However, 10% of staff in group-based providers received pay below the National Living Wage of £7.20 for workers aged 25 and over, which was made mandatory in 2016. In 2018, 44% of childcare workers claimed additional state benefits or tax credits to support themselves and their families.

The pandemic has only exacerbated such issues. While the government furlough scheme has protected jobs in this sector, the 80% salary coverage for those on already low pay has meant that many Early Years workers may find themselves with insufficient income to make ends meet. A recent analysis by EPI highlights that this has meant that the retention of workers within this sector is drastically falling, with many workers turning to other industries, such as retail, to provide financial stability.

But the current situation has also hit the Early Years sector from a business perspective. Before Covid-19, the Early Years sector was already experiencing issues of increased funding pressures, which were filtering down to increased costs for parents. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic: research by the Sutton Trust shows two thirds of Early Years providers were closed during the lockdown, with low-income areas of the country hit hardest, and ongoing capacity constraints are likely to mean that some no longer see a path to fiscal sustainability and will remain closed for good.

Given how important high-quality early years provision is, as both a vital part of supporting children’s early development and to support their parents’ ability to return to work, it is striking that plans to support the Early Years sector are largely absent from the government’s Covid-19 catch-up funding for schools. The Sutton Trust has set out what a similar package for the Early Years sector could look like; recommending an £88million package, including transition funding to see practitioners through these especially challenging months, and the introduction of an Early Years Pupil Premium available to providers serving children from low-income families.

The government’s response to both new and ongoing challenges faced in the Early Years sector has been widely criticised both before and during Covid-19. In particular, the Social Mobility Commission highlighted in their report earlier this year that the government has made little to no action on developing and delivering ‘a coherent and long-term early years strategy focused on improving outcomes for the least advantaged, since 2013’. It is vital for children, parents, the economy, and our society that immediate and lasting actions are taken to address this. The longer the sector does not receive such support, the harder it will be for it to recover, and the more children will go without the important developmental support that we know high-quality early years provision can bring.

10 things you may not know about educational inequality

IOE Editor15 June 2020

1. There are large inequalities in the home learning environment

Families from lower socio-economic backgrounds may experience challenges in supporting their child’s home learning. For example through:

  • Limited access to resources(including tech devices);
  • Lack of reliable and fast Internet connection;
  • Low levels of parental numeracy and literacy;
  • Anxieties towards learning (especially maths).

Current evidence suggests it is important to focus on the quality of children’s home learning, rather than simply the quantity. 

2. Parental inputs affect early child development

By the time children start school, socio-economic gaps are evident in child skills. Exploring the role of various parental inputs, we find that financial resources are an important channel, explaining up to 59% of the effect on child cognitive skills. Parental investments of health behaviours during pregnancy and monetary investments at home explain a further 14% of the test score gaps.

3. Jobless parents invest less money but more time in their children’s learning

Parents out of work, but with otherwise similar backgrounds to working parents, provide lower monetary investments but more time investments in their children’s learning, such as helping with homework. These findings could help guide future social policy aimed at equalising opportunities for children living in workless households.

4. There are large inequalities in the courses that university students attend, by family background.

We examine inequalities in the match between student quality and university quality. We find that students from lower socio-economic groups systematically undermatch, that secondary schools play a key role in generating these gaps, and that while there are negligible gender gaps in the academic match, high-attaining women systematically undermatch in terms of expected earnings, largely driven by subject choice.

5. There is a great deal of inaccuracy in predicted grades.

Only 16% of applicants’ to the UK University system have predicted grades that are accurate. While 75% of applicants have their grades over-predicted, high-attaining, disadvantaged students are significantly more likely to receive under-predictions. Those under-predicted candidates are more likely to enrol in courses for which they are overqualified than their peers. The use of predicted rather than actual grades has important implications for student’s labour market outcomes and social mobility in general.

6. Non-monetary incentives can improve teacher retention.

The French have a non-pecuniary (non-money based), “career-path oriented” centralized incentive scheme designed to attract and retain teachers in French disadvantaged schools. We find this incentive scheme has a statistically significant positive effect on the number of consecutive years teachers stay in disadvantaged schools and decreases the probability of inexperienced teachers in disadvantaged schools to leave the profession.

7. Teacher’s working hours have remained stable despite initiatives to reduce them

Surveys have revealed that teachers in England work far longer hours than their international counterparts. However, contrary to current narrativeswe do not find evidence that average working hours have increased. Indeed, we find no notable change in total hours, work during evenings and weekends over the fifteen to twenty years. The results suggest that policy initiatives have so far failed to reduce teachers’ working hours and that more radical action may need to be taken in order to fix this problem. The article concludes with a discussion of how official data on working hours could be improved.

8. There are large inequalities in who accesses grammar schools

Inequalities exist in who attains places at grammar schools by socio-economic status, with more disadvantaged children far less likely to attend a grammar school than their more advantaged peers. This is true even when comparing those with similar levels of academic achievement. 

9. Private school choices are based on values, not just money

Given the high and rising fees required to send a child to private school, one might think that the decision is entirely connected with financial resources. However, while these remain an important factor, we argue that other determinants are also important. In particular, we highlight the importance of parental values and geographical proximity to choosing high-quality state school alternatives. 

10. Bullying casts a long shadow on attainment

Both type of bullying and its intensity matters for long-run outcomes such as obtaining a degreeincome, and mental health. We can assess the effects of bullying victimisation on short- and long-term outcomes, including educational achievements, earnings, and mental ill-health at age 25 years.

Home schooling during lockdown: Inequalities in inputs and perceptions

IOE Editor5 June 2020

By: Dr. Jake Anders, Professor Lindsey Macmillan, Professor Patrick Sturgis and Dr. Gill Wyness

The past few weeks have been challenging for parents across the country working hard to support their children to continue to learn during the COVID–19 lockdown. One of the reasons for the big push to get kids back to school is the concern over inequalities driven by differences in home learning. Using new data from a high-quality random sample collected using the Kantar Public Voice Survey, we examine the extent of inequalities in home schooling during lockdown from the end of April to the beginning of June. We find stark differences in the time spent home schooling but also in the perceptions of parents, in terms of their ability to adequately support their children’s learning, and in how the burden of home schooling is divided between mothers and fathers.

Differences in days spent home schooling

While very similar proportions (around 75%) of graduate and non-graduate parents report doing any home schooling, graduate parents report home schooling their children on more days compared to non-graduate parents. While almost 80% of graduate parents are home schooling their children at least 4 days a week, only 60% of non-graduates are home schooling this often. This is consistent with other surveys covering the same period that have found inequalities in the amount of time spent home schooling by parental income.

Differences in perception of ability to home school

These differences in time spent home schooling could be driven, in part, by graduate parents having greater confidence in their abilities to home school their children. In our survey, graduates were more likely (70%) to agree with the statement ‘I am confident in my household’s abilities to home school my child’ compared to non-graduates (60%). Similarly, graduate parents report more confidence that their child’s learning is continuing. This confidence gap in ability to home school is concerning, as studies show that children who have parents with anxiety about maths tend to perform worse in maths.

Differences in perceptions of interfering with their job

These differences in time spent home schooling seem to have a consequential effect on whether parents’ feel able to do their jobs. Graduates are substantially more likely to agree that home schooling is interfering with their job, a difference this is particularly pronounced for mothers, with nearly 80% of graduate mothers agreeing that home schooling had interfered with their ability to do their job, compared to 67% of graduate fathers, and 50% of non-graduates.

 

Differences in perception of who is doing the most home schooling

This inequality between mothers and fathers can also be seen when we consider who is doing the most to support their child with schoolwork during lockdown. Around half (49%) of fathers say that their partner does most of the home schooling, with the other half split between those who say that they take on the lion’s share (16%), and those reporting that this responsibility is split equally (33%). This contrasts with mothers, with almost two-thirds (63%) saying they devote most time on this task, with only one fifth (21%) reporting an equal split, and just 13% saying that their partners are doing the majority of home-schooling. These patterns are, again, particularly pronounced for graduate mothers. Similar differences in perceptions between mothers and fathers have also been found in the US, where 45% of fathers said they did most of the home schooling – but just 3% of mothers reported that their partner was making the largest contribution.

Support for children and working mothers

Taken together this new evidence from a high-quality random sample of parents suggests that inequalities arising from home schooling during lockdown will exacerbate existing inequalities in education. We know that children of graduate parents already have higher levels of cognitive and socio-emotional skills on school entry. These inequalities are only likely to widen if children from less advantaged backgrounds are spending less time on home-schooling during lockdown. Non-graduate parents are also less confident in their ability to home school their children and this may be detrimental to the quality of the support they are able to provide.

Our survey also reveals gender disparities in the impact of home schooling, with graduate mothers particularly likely to report that home schooling is interfering with their jobs. But parents perceptions do not align on who is sharing the greater burden; while half of fathers say they are doing at least an equal share, a clear majority of mothers think that this level of paternal input is exaggerated.

Catch up strategies when schools re-open should be mindful that returning children will have been exposed to different levels of home schooling. Similarly, employers should be mindful that the burden of home schooling during lockdown is more likely to have affected mothers compared to other employees, and factor this into future pay reviews and promotions.

Dr. Jake Anders is Associate Professor of Educational and Social Statistics and Deputy Director of the Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO), UCL

Professor Lindsey Macmillan is a Professor of Economics and Director of CEPEO, UCL

Professor Patrick Sturgis is a Professor of Quantitative Social Science at the LSE Department of Methodology

Dr. Gill Wyness is Associate Professor of Economics and Deputy Director of CEPEO, UCL

 

GCSEs are cancelled. Here’s what the government should do.

IOE Editor19 March 2020

By Professor John Jerrim

Yesterday, the DfE took the extraordinary step of cancelling GCSE exams. This will mean that some children will suffer the consequences throughout their lifetime.

This is obviously a very tricky situation, and any solution the government comes up with will be less than perfect.

But, in my view, one clear option is the winner: children in the 2019/20 cohort should be award GCSEs based upon their predicted grades.

This has the obvious advantage of being relatively cheap, quick, and easy to do. It is also (arguably) unlikely to be less fair than the alternatives.

WONT SCHOOLS / TEACHERS GAME THE SYSTEM?

The greatest concerns the government his likely to have with predicted grades is that (a) schools will inflate their pupils grades and (b) some students grades will be more inflated than others (e.g. equally able children from poor backgrounds will be predicted lower grades than their peers from rich backgrounds).

On (a) there are statistical ways we can look out for schools with suspiciously high or low grades. After all, we know how their pupils have performed in GCSEs in previous years. By making clear that there will be such checks on schools, it will greatly reduce any temptation to game the system.

On (b), one of the benefits of England having a *very* data driven system is that almost all Year 11 students will have taken either mock exams or standardised tests from companies like GL Assessment, Hodder etc. Schools could be asked to justify the predicted grades that they assign kids based upon such information, and even try to do some moderation where neccesary. Although the quality and quantity of such information is likely to vary from school-to-school, there are again likely to be statistical ways we can account for this to make the best predictions possible.

WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?

In my view, there are few credible alternatives to this approach. Exams could be taken in September instead, but who knows if the situation will even be over by then? It would also mean that these kids have been out of school for six months, which will create its own unfairness. Young people will also have progressed on to A-Levels or into jobs. And who will be available to do the marking of all these tests, in the prime time of the academic year?

A FINAL THOUGHT

We all have to do our bit through this crisis. I may not be able to cure the Coronavirus, but I want my knowledge and skills to be put to the best use, where they are needed.

My hope is that this blog will help thinking on this matter. And I want to make clear, any assistance I can provide to the DfE and Ofqual on this important matter, then I will make it my top priority.

Sincerely,

John

Who goes to private school? Looking beyond the money.

IOE Editor14 March 2020

By Dr. Jake Anders,

While those in private schools make up a fairly small proportion of children attending school in England (although higher than many realise: it is estimated that almost one in ten children attend a private school at some point during their educational careers), it is important to understand who does so. Unlike in many countries, private school attendance in Britain is associated with substantial advantages later in life. Many important and influential fields (such as politics, judges and journalists) are dominated by those who went to private schools when they were children.

It is well known, and unsurprising given the costs associated with attending, that there is a link between family income and attending a private school. However, it is not just the case that all those who can afford it send their children to private schools and those who cannot do not: even among families with high levels of income it is far from the case that all children actually attend a private school. If they are not constrained by finance, what explains why some of these families choose to send their children to a private school and some do not?

Some earlier studies have interviewed parents to ask about their motivations in choosing a school. However, we know that parents might not always be completely honest with a stranger about–or even be fully aware of–the underlying reasons for the decisions they make about personal decisions of this type. Our approach is quite different to such interviews, in that we use quantitative data to compare the characteristics of those whose children attend private schools with those whose children do not. We then try to draw inferences based on such patterns, avoiding the need to ask parents to think hypothetically about what they would have done in different circumstances, and instead basing our findings on their observed behaviour.

Using this approach, we shed new light on two seemingly important factors in explaining parents’ decisions to choose private schooling for their children. Our work was carried out using data from the Millennium Cohort Study: a large-scale research study that has followed a group of children who were born in the year 2000 and their families. The sample is designed to be representative of families across the UK, although in this work we focus specifically on those in England because of the differences in education systems between England and other countries in the UK. Every few years participating families are asked questions about their child’s development, their educational progress, and family life more generally. The data from this study allows us to paint a rich picture of families’ circumstances and finding out about the decisions they have made, meaning we can look at the links between these among those taking part.

First, the role of parents’ personal beliefs and values. To attempt to measure these, we analysed the responses parents gave to a set of statements about their views on family life when their child was one year old. One of the measurable values that emerged from this analysis we refer to as “traditional” values; two examples of the particular statements relevant to capturing these factors are ‘Couples who have children should not separate’ and ‘It is alright for people to have children without being married’. We found that, even when we compare families with similar levels of income, parents with higher levels of these “traditional” values were more likely to send their children to private school. We find this particularly explaining the variation in private school attendance among families with high levels of income, with this finding similar in spirit to earlier work by Stephen Ball whose interviews with parents identified that, for some people, “private schooling is a possible but unacceptable choice”.

Second, we explored the relevance of where families live on the educational choices they make for their children. Specifically, we calculate how close families live to the nearest state schools we think some parents might be more likely to see as substitutes for private schools. By doing so, we are able to observe that families who live closer to academically selective grammar schools, or who live closer to schools judged ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted, are less likely to send their children to private schools. While some of this difference could be caused by families deliberately moving, in order to live close to such schools (often in areas with higher housing costs), this link persists among those with similar levels of family income and other key characteristics, suggesting the patterns we see aren’t only about differences in house prices near to such schools, for example.

Overall, we provide new evidence about some of the reasons–beyond the basic finances–that parents make decisions about private schooling. Among parents with low levels of “traditional” values it is much less likely that they will choose private schooling for their children, no matter how much income they have. Adding to this, some parents who would otherwise choose private education are happy to send their children to a state school if they live close to one with certain characteristics, such as a high Ofsted rating. Findings such as these should make us mindful of the complexities of decisions parents make about private schooling and the implications these have for the composition of pupils in both state and private sectors.