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Catch-22: we cannot have growth without a focus on education

By Blog editor, on 8 March 2024

By Professor Lindsey Macmillan and Professor Gill Wyness

We were having a discussion in our CEPEO team meeting yesterday about Spring Budget 2024 and the implications for education policy. As we outlined in our Twitter thread, there’s resounding disappointment across the education sector based on the announcements, with very little offered in terms of investment in education and skills. It’s no real surprise of course, given there is no money. Without any real prospect of economic growth this will be the story for the foreseeable future. And yet, and this is the catch-22 of it all, we cannot have growth without a focus on education and skills. In the words of John Maynard Keynes “We do nothing because we have not the money. But it is precisely because we do not do anything that we have not the money”.

Lip service is often paid to the importance of education and skills for growth, and we hear regularly about investments to support the development of skills in particular sectors – AI or green growth, for example. But while these skills are undoubtedly going to be important for future growth, it is the skills of the many, not the few, that are critical for productivity. And, as we know from a wealth of evidence about the effects of the pandemic, the challenge here is a daunting one. We can see from the most recent assessments at the end of primary school that the proportion of pupils reaching expected standards in reading, writing, and maths are down to 60%, levels not seen since 2016. In addition, inequalities have risen. The disadvantage gap is now higher than any point in the past decade.

As outlined in the Times Education Supplement piece this morning, there was a fully-costed education strategy put in place by Sir Kevan Collins, at the request of the government, in 2021 to help children who had missed school during the pandemic. This was based on the idea of three Ts. Teachers, Tutoring, and Time. Invest in the education workforce, invest in tutoring, and invest in extending the school day. Each one supported by rigorous evidence. And each one intertwined with the other to create complementarities to support education recovery. £15 billion was the ask, equivalent to £1,680 per pupil. This might sound like a lot of money but it was against a backdrop of estimates of the economic cost of learning loss reaching as high as £1.5 trillion, because of a lower-skilled workforce. In the end, only one tenth of this £15bn was offered up by the then Chancellor (and current PM), prompting Sir Kevan Collins’ resignation.

This is one example of the short-termism of government policy relating to growth: the reluctance to spend money now for the sake of future benefit. Those incomprehensibly large numbers of the economic costs of learning loss won’t fully hit now, but will instead permeate for decades to come. This means there is little incentive to spend the required money now; government won’t see the immediate benefits and get direct political gain in this election cycle.

Human Capital or Signalling?

A telling part of Sir Kevan Collins’ interview is that there was some kind of idea that the learning lost during the pandemic “would all just come out in the wash”. That children and young people who missed months of school would just catch up with little intervention required.

But this suggests that children can miraculously learn more in a year than they might otherwise have done with no further investment. That somehow teachers could be more productive after the pandemic than before – despite the myriad other challenges the pandemic created or worsened, not least significantly higher school absences. It also suggests that the government didn’t think that investment in the education system would have led to more learning.

But that goes against one of the fundamental theories of economics – human capital theory. The idea is that education increases the stock of human capital – skills – and higher skills fuel productivity and the economy, so investing in education is one of the most effective ways to drive sustainable economic growth. This is backed up by a wealth of evidence establishing a positive return to individuals and the wider economy from investing in education. Furthermore, education has been shown to have wider social benefits as more educated societies have higher levels of civic participation, better birth outcomes and reduced crime. We outline this in more detail in our briefing note “Does education raise people’s productivity or does it just signal their existing ability?”

There was also a lot of discussion at the time that learning loss didn’t matter anyway – because education is just there to act as a signal to employers about the relative abilities of different individuals, rather than something that directly improves their productivity. In other words, if someone has 3 A*s at A level, this tells an employer that they are a better worker than someone with 3 Bs, and it doesn’t matter how much knowledge or skills the person with 3 A*s actually has. But the evidence around this is much weaker as our briefing note describes.

Wasted talent

Linked to this is the belief that learning loss would be equally felt by all pupils. But again, the evidence (including from our own COSMO study) has shown the opposite. Learning loss is felt much more by pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, and thus failing to invest in catch-up has compounded inequality. This inevitably results in wasted talent, further stifling economic growth, as outlined in our UKRI-funded project exploring the links between diversity, education and productivity. Evidence from the US shows that between 20-40% of economic growth over the last 50 years resulted from a better allocation of talent.

Failing to invest when pupils are young also has knock on effects. Education and skills are like building blocks. It is much easier to build an individuals’ skills if they have an existing foundation of basic skills to build upon. This in turn leads to higher returns on investment, as individuals become more and more skilled.

The catch-22 illusion?

This isn’t the first time education has been side-lined in recent budgets. Even the childcare announcement of 2023 was really about increasing labour force participation, rather than investing in early childhood education.

This short-term outlook is the government catch-22: we need growth to invest, but we can’t invest without growth. We need to break this cycle and understand that human capital is the fundamental underpinning of economic growth.

Making Maths Count in Early Childhood

By Blog editor, on 25 May 2023

By Dr Laura Outhwaite

CEPEO recently launched New Opportunities, our evidence-based manifesto for equalising opportunities. In this blog series, we are highlighting one of our policy proposals each week. This post makes the case for why we need to raise standards in maths attainment from early childhood, and how this can be achieved through a new campaign to support parents’ engagement with children’s early maths skills.

Why maths?

Children’s maths attainment has been significantly impacted by the disruptions caused by Covid-19. Only 71% of 11-year-olds met expected standards in mathematics in their end of primary school SATs in 2022, compared to 79% in 2019. This decline in maths attainment was not observed for reading, which showed a small increase from 73% of 11-year-olds reaching expected standards to 74%, over the same period. This also reflects trends seen in longitudinal cohort data prior to the pandemic, where a maths-reading attainment gap emerges in the first years of school, with reading skills significantly exceeding those of maths.

These figures are a great distance from the Levelling Up Mission of 90% of 11-year-olds meeting expected standards in maths, reading, and writing by 2030. It also poses challenges to the Prime Minister’s vision for every young person to study some form of maths up to the age of 18. While there are several shorter-term solutions to these goals, such as the recruitment and retention of specialist maths teachers, we also need to address the bigger picture on factors that impact maths attainment, including the need to emphasise the importance and impact of maths development in early childhood.

Early maths matters

A meta-analysis of six longitudinal datasets shows that early maths skills at the start of primary school are the strongest predictors of later general attainment at ages 10-11, compared to other skills, including reading. How well children do in basic maths skills at ages 4-5 also significantly predicts enrolment in advanced mathematical courses between ages 15-18. This relationship remained significant after socio-economic status was accounted for. Furthermore, children who do well in maths throughout their educational careers are also more likely to have better labour market outcomes, including employment opportunities and earnings in adulthood.

Overall, this is not to say that a focus on maths should replace a focus on reading.  Rather, opportunities for maths need to have an increased presence in children’s early learning environments, including at home.

Maths in the home learning environment

Parents and caregivers typically read with their young children every day, compared to engaging in maths related activities once a week. These engagements in children’s learning at home are shown to be related to their attainment outcomes, including after controlling for socio-economic background. Likewise, parents who report feeling more confident in early maths spend more time engaging with maths activities, which in turn supports their child’s outcomes. Whereas feelings of anxiety about maths from parents can have a negative impact on child’s attainment, as well as their own anxieties about maths.

There are also inequalities in opportunities for active parental engagement with children’s maths development. For example, higher levels of maternal education support higher family incomes, which in turn supports increased parental investments in educational resources at home, and consequently increased maths skills for primary-school aged children. This highlights the need for low-cost solutions and resources that can boost parents’ confidence and engagement in early maths at home.

However, to date, initiatives aimed at encouraging and supporting parents to engage in early learning at home with their children have primarily focused on literacy and language skills. Review evidence suggests these kinds of programmes are beneficial for boosting engagement in the home learning environment. Feedback from the focus groups conducted by Public First about the CEPEO policy priorities also showed this proposal was well received as a way of solving the learning gap, particularly if the resources were online or on-demand. Therefore, we recommend a similar national campaign that targets children’s early maths skills.

Launch a new campaign to support children’s early maths skills

Research shows when involving parents in home learning, simply communicating the need to ‘do more maths’ is not enough. Instead, active parental engagement also needs to be encouraged. This can be achieved in several ways. For example, studies show parent-based educational apps that provide parents and caregivers with resources and ideas for how to engage with their child’s maths development have shown positive and sustained benefits on child outcomes and parent confidence. Mathematical story books and applying maths concepts into everyday life situations, conversations and play have also shown positive benefits.

Encouraging parents to engage with these resources, alongside support from early childhood education and care providers, can be a valuable way forward. Evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation describes the parental engagement on child outcomes as “high impact for low cost based on extensive evidence”. The Centre for Social Justice also calls for an integrated approach for supporting parental participation in children’s education as a way to contribute to reducing the attainment gap.

Overall, in creating this national campaign, it is vital to signpost and promote high-quality, evidence-based resources. This should be combined with working with parents and practitioners to maximise their reach and impact, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In doing so, the summarised evidence suggests that this policy priority will make important contributions to raising maths attainment in early childhood with long-term benefits.

 

A substantial childcare package from the Chancellor – but children’s needs take a back seat

By Blog editor, on 15 March 2023

Claire Crawford and Laura Outhwaite

We had to wait almost an hour to hear details of the heavily trailed package of childcare reforms announced by the Chancellor in the Budget today, but when the moment finally arrived, it lived up to its pre-programme billing. This was the most significant investment in childcare for years.

But while the Chancellor presented the reforms as part of the “Education” pillar of his 4 Es of economic growth and prosperity, they should really have been part of the “Employment” pillar. These reforms were all about childcare as a route to higher labour market participation and working hours, for mothers in particular. There was nothing about the implications for children, their development and wellbeing, or the inequalities in access and child outcomes that these reforms would cement. And little on the importance of quality, which is vital to the success of these reforms.

The most substantial element of the reforms was the one leaked last night – the introduction of 30 hours per week of free care during term-time for children 9 months and older in working families. For a Chancellor seemingly interested only in the likely impact on mothers’ labour supply, our earlier work comparing the impact of offering 0 vs. 15 vs. 30 hours of free care per week during term-time offers some good news. We found that offering 30 hours per week of free care during term-time was effective at encouraging more mothers into work, while the offer of 15 hours per week had no effect. Although, as we have pointed out previously, it does seem odd for a policy focused on supporting working families to apply during term-time only. When stretched across a whole year – which is what many working families using private care have to pay for – it is really only 22 hours per week, and then only during certain hours of the day and excluding ‘extras’ like lunch.

More concerningly, these reforms will undo what little progressivity there was left in the system, funnelling more money to support children from potentially very high-income working families, while those in non-working families receive less support. The existing 15 hours per week of free care for the 40% most disadvantaged 2-year-olds will be dwarfed by the new reform. Only children from non-working households amongst the 60% better-off families will not be entitled to any free care at age 2. And, just as with the existing 3-4-year-old offers, those in families with household income of nearly £200k per year will receive more government support than non-working families on Universal Credit, who receive an 85% subsidy on their childcare spending (now up to a higher cap and paid upfront, rather than in arrears).

There are already large differences in skill development and school readiness between children from richer and poorer families by the time they start school, driven in part by differences in use of high quality early education. As we outlined in an earlier briefing note, high quality early education, including from as young as age 1, can benefit children’s development, especially for those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. But these reforms will bolster the amount of time spent in early education for those from better-off backgrounds, while doing little to improve the participation rates of those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. This is likely to exacerbate, rather than address  inequalities in child learning and development.

The benefits of early education found in the literature are heavily reliant on the provision available being of high quality. And in a move that will be hugely welcome to providers, the Chancellor also announced a rise in the funding rates paid for existing hours of free care. We’ll leave our friends at the Institute for Fiscal Studies to crunch the numbers on what the figures mean for the hourly rates paid to providers over the next few years. But it was notable that there was no mention of the funding rates to be paid for the new provision. This will be absolutely vital in determining how many providers choose to offer the free hours, and what quality of care they will be able to provide.

And quality is crucial to the effects of these policies. Not only for children’s development, but also for parents’ labour force participation. Parents will be more likely to use the provision available – especially for younger children – if they are happy with the quality of care their child is receiving, making it vital for labour supply decisions. Moreover, evidence suggests that a child attending a low-quality setting can have negative effects on the wellbeing of both parents and children. For all of these reasons, it is essential that providers are paid sufficiently for the care they deliver.

Alongside incentives to encourage more childminders to enter the system and schools to offer more wraparound care, the Chancellor also went ahead with the much-maligned reform to relax staff:child ratios for 2-year-olds from 1:4 to 1:5, bringing England into line with Scotland. As we set out in an earlier briefing note, there is little concrete evidence that this would significantly harm children’s outcomes – but neither is there much evidence that it would significantly reduce parents’ childcare costs, and a clear risk that it could further damage already low workforce morale. Given that today’s announcements may substantially increase demand for childcare for 1-2-year-olds – potentially requiring a massive increase in the staff needed to deliver it – ensuring that the pay and conditions of staff in the early years sector make it an attractive option will be hugely important.

The Chancellor certainly didn’t try to get away with tinkering around the edges of the childcare system. He has gambled on a large expansion of free childcare encouraging more mothers back to work, helping to fill vacancies and plug skill shortages in an effort to increase economic growth. But these short-term benefits for productivity may come at the expense of children from our poorest families missing out on the benefits of early education, potentially damaging productivity in the longer-term.

Why greater investment in early years should be a no-brainer for the Chancellor

By Blog Editor, on 14 March 2023

Claire Crawford & Laura Outhwaite

With the Budget just around the corner, the calls for the Chancellor to tackle soaring childcare costs are growing into a clamour. A recent survey estimated the average cost of a full-time childcare place for a 2-year-old in England at nearly £15k per year – an eye watering 45% of the median annual salary of a full-time employee in the UK. For a parent – unfortunately still usually the mother – considering whether to work following the birth of their child, knowing that such a large chunk of their take-home pay is likely be swallowed by childcare costs will inevitably give them pause. This has implications for the economy in the short-term, potentially drawing valuable labour out of the workforce at a time of high labour demand and skills shortages. It also has implications for inequalities in school readiness and beyond, as those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to access high quality early years education, which benefits children’s development.

Public opinion seems to be pointing clearly in the direction of greater support for early years. But does the evidence support this position? And how generous would the Chancellor have to be on Wednesday lunchtime to make a material difference to these challenges?

Our new briefing note reviews the evidence on the effects of offering free or highly subsidised childcare for parents and children. It also compares what the evidence suggests might be the optimal policy to what is currently available in England, to highlight what additional investment might be required.

There are two main takeaways:

  • First, there is a strong evidence-based case for significant additional government investment in early childhood education and care (ECEC). The evidence suggests that offering additional free or highly subsidised childcare for parents of 0-2-year-olds could encourage more mothers to work (more) and also benefit children’s development. Part-time provision (e.g., 15 hours per week during term-time) might be sufficient to deliver the benefits for children, but would be unlikely to increase mothers’ labour supply very much; greater investment (offering full-time provision, ideally across the full year rather than term-time only) would be required to achieve this.
  • Second, quality is key. This is vital to maximise the benefits for children’s development, but its importance goes beyond this. Parents will be more likely to use the provision available – especially for younger children – if they are happy with the quality of care their child is receiving, making it crucial for labour supply decisions. Moreover, evidence suggests that a child attending a low-quality setting can have negative effects on the wellbeing of both parents and children. For all of these reasons, it is essential that providers are paid sufficiently for the care they deliver.

What does this mean the Chancellor should do on Wednesday lunchtime? Our reading of the evidence leads us to make two primary recommendations:

  • The funding rate paid by the government to cover the free early education entitlements for 3-4-year-olds and disadvantaged 2-year-olds in England should be increased. This would help to cover cost rises that are largely out of providers’ hands (e.g., energy price rises, increases to the National Living Wage) and reduce the incentive for providers to charge more for privately paid-for hours of care to compensate for the lower rate paid by the government. This would enable providers to reduce fees and/or invest more in raising the quality of care they provide.
  • A more generous childcare subsidy should be introduced for families of 0-2-year-olds, to reduce the financial barriers to work, particularly for mothers, and support children’s development. The subsidy should be progressive – higher (potentially 100%) for families with lower income – to minimise the risk of such reforms widening inequalities. As discussed in more detail in our submission to the Education Select Committee’s Inquiry on Support for Childcare and Early Years, it would be more transparent for such a subsidy to be delivered via something like the tax-free childcare system than by offering more free hours of care during term-time only, whose benefits are less than the headline amount for families who need childcare throughout the year.

It has been widely reported in the media that the Chancellor will announce the cap on childcare costs that can be claimed by Universal Credit recipients will be raised, and that families will be able to claim childcare costs upfront rather than in arrears. While this will undoubtedly be good news for families for whom these restrictions would otherwise prevent them from using childcare or moving into work, if that is the limit of the financial support for childcare announced on Wednesday lunchtime, then the Chancellor will have disappointed many – and gone against the evidence outlined in our briefing note.

What could arguably be described as ‘tinkering around the edges’ is not going to generate the kind of sizeable reduction in childcare costs that is needed to make a material difference to families’ budgets, parents’ labour supply decisions or children’s development. It is also crucial that any actions taken to reduce childcare costs for families are not delivered at the expense of reducing the quality of care on offer. For both reasons, as we highlighted in another recent briefing note reviewing the evidence on the links between childcare ratios and children’s outcomes, relaxing childcare ratios is unlikely to be a good solution to the current childcare conundrum either.

The evidence suggests that investing in high quality ECEC is likely to provide a triple whammy of benefits – improving children’s development, increasing family income and boosting productivity – and that the long-run benefits are highly likely to outweigh the short-term costs. We can only hope that current labour demands are sufficient to provide the short-term incentive needed for the Chancellor to look beyond the gloomy fiscal position and make the kind of long-term investment needed to deliver these benefits.

What do we know so far about the effect of school closures on educational inequality?

By Blog Editor, on 18 May 2022

By Jo Blanden (University of Surrey/CEP, LSE), Matthias Doepke (Northwestern) and Jan Stuhler (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid)

This post was first published on the LSE Covid-19 blog on May 16th 2022, at https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/covid19/2022/05/16/what-do-we-know-so-far-about-the-effect-of-school-closures-on-educational-inequality/

Ninety-four percent of the world’s student population was affected by school and university closures in the spring of 2020, according to UNESCO. By May 2021, schools across countries had been fully closed for an average of 17 weeks. These closures varied widely in length, and were only partially determined by infection rates. Students in many developing nations, and in some US states, experienced closures that lasted more than a year — whereas there were no designated school closures at all in Belarus and Burundi. Closures were particularly long in China, Indonesia, and some countries in Southern Europe, but of similar intensity in most other countries.

School closures have been especially controversial in the US and Canada, where they have continued much longer than in other developed economies. In the US, closures were determined at the state or school district level, resulting in substantial variation in children’s experiences, as well as posing a challenge for the systematic collection of data. Evidence from mobile phone locations indicates that nine out of 10 schools were closed in April 2020, falling to 40 percent in September but then rising again to 56 percent in December of that year.  Halloran et al. (2021) use school district-level data from 12 US states for the 2020–2021 academic year and show that shares of in-person schooling time varied from 9 percent in Virginia to 98 percent in Florida.

Learning is a cumulative process, where skills acquired at one life stage foster further learning later on. This means that learning losses, once incurred, are difficult to compensate for later. Many of the schoolchildren affected by the pandemic are therefore likely to enter adult life with fewer skills and lower educational attainment than they would have otherwise. This loss of what economists call ‘human capital’ will be reflected in lower lifetime earnings at the individual level, and could result in a lower stock of human capital and lower national income at the aggregate level for decades to come.

We are particularly interested in whether school closures increase educational inequality by differentially impacting children from different socio-economic backgrounds. There are two reasons why this might occur. First, the incidence of school closures themselves may vary by social background, for instance when public schools close while private schools attended by richer families stay open. Second, children from disadvantaged backgrounds might experience greater learning loss if their school closes. Children’s learning depends on inputs from educational institutions, parental inputs, and neighbourhood and peer effects. The potential for other inputs to compensate when schools are closed is likely to differ across families.

During the closures, the inputs provided by schools and teachers were often delivered via online education. Yet just how well virtual education can replace in-person schooling depends on factors such as having a reliable internet connection, functioning tablets or laptops, and a quiet work environment, all of which are more likely to be met in higher-income families. Parents also play an important role, and richer parents may not only be more capable of assisting their children in making up for lost time but also more likely to work from home, so they can help if need be.

School closures are not the only mechanism through which the pandemic may impact educational inequality. Its macroeconomic effects could decrease parents’ income and educational investments, reduce public spending on schooling, or affect the returns and incentives to acquiring education. The full impact of all of these changes on educational inequality will gradually emerge over the next few years, but researchers are already offering predictions based on several sources; from pre-pandemic evidence on the consequences of school closures, from early evidence from the pandemic, and from structural modelling of its long-run impact.

The pre-pandemic evidence suggests that COVID could increase educational inequality via two channels: a greater incidence of school closures in low-income neighbourhoods, and a greater learning loss conditional on closure among disadvantaged students. Indeed, early work on the pandemic supports both channels. Parolin and Lee (2021) show that school closures in the US in the autumn of 2020 were more common for students from ethnic minorities. School closures were also more widespread in institutions with lower third grade math scores, more homeless students, more students with limited English proficiency, and a larger share of students eligible for free or subsidised lunch. Halloran et al. (2021) confirm this picture, documenting that districts with a greater share of black students and a higher share of students receiving free lunches offered less in-person schooling.

In the UK, school closures are determined at the national level, but local mitigation procedures led to varying incidence, as groups of children were required to isolate if a positive case was detected in their “bubble.” Eyles and Elliot Major (2021) show that in autumn 2020, these localised measures led to nine days of missed schooling in the poorest areas compared to only two days in the most affluent municipalities. This evidence suggests that variation in the incidence of school closures could exacerbate educational inequalities.

Some alarming direct evidence is emerging on the impact of school closures in the early phases of the pandemic. Engzell, Frey, and Verhagen (2021) find that in the Netherlands, eight weeks of online rather than in-person learning led to 0.08 of a standard deviation lower test scores for students aged eight to 11. The impact is 40 percent larger among those in the least educated homes, suggesting that the pandemic not only increased educational inequality, but that disadvantaged children’s skills actually deteriorated. Tomasik, Helbling, and Moser (2021) analyse improvement in student skills in German-speaking Switzerland over the initial eight-week school closure starting in March 2020, compared to the eight weeks just prior. On average, primary school pupils learned half as much under distance learning, and there was more inequality in their progression. In particular, those with higher ability going into the pandemic saw stronger effects. Students in secondary school learned at the same speed as before.

Maldonado and De Witte (2020) provide evidence on 5th graders in Flemish Belgium who experienced seven weeks of school closure, partially replaced with online teaching. This period led to reduced test scores, equivalent to 0.19 of a standard deviation in maths and 0.29 of a standard deviation in Dutch compared to earlier cohorts. Students performed worse than if they had simply retained their initial knowledge, suggesting a slide in skills. The authors observe weak effects on inequality, with no differences across schools by initial average test scores or by the school’s social mix for math outcomes, and only slightly larger effects for poorer schools in Dutch.

These results suggest that school closures during the pandemic had greater effects on test scores than one might have expected based on extrapolations from prior evidence. Children’s learning may have been affected not just by the school closures themselves but also by other effects of the crisis, such as the disruption of peer interactions or increased anxiety during the pandemic. Improved virtual instruction might have helped reduce learning losses as the pandemic wore on, but uneven engagement has the potential to worsen inequalities even further. Lewis et al. (2021) point to “pandemic fatigue” as an explanation for why they observe more learning loss in the spring of 2021 compared to six months previously, and cite evidence that students were more likely to report not liking school in the winter of 2021 compared to the start of the academic year.

Halloran et al. (2021) show that proficiency rates in English and maths were on average 14 percentage points lower during the pandemic. By associating variation in time spent in different learning modes over the 2020/2021 academic year (remote, hybrid, in-person) with district-level information on test scores, the authors conclude that this gap would have only been four percentage points if schools had remained open throughout the period, though the effects are likely to be downward biased due to missing data. The authors see larger effects in districts with more students of colour and a greater number of students eligible for free school meals.

Underlying the impact of school closures on overall learning and educational inequality are several distinct mechanisms. First, the availability and quality of virtual learning offered by schools is clearly important. Second, there may be differences in parents’ ability to support virtual learning and to compensate for the lost investments from schools. Third, the work put in by the students themselves matters as well. Clark et al. (2021) consider evidence from China and show that children who have access to online learning through their school do 0.22 of a standard deviation better on tests that follow the end of a seven-week period of school closures. While effects by family background are not reported, the authors find that effective online learning is especially beneficial for low achievers. This observation suggests that inequalities in access to online learning may in part drive inequalities in the impact of school closure.

Andrew et al. (2020) survey parents in the first period of English school closures and find that primary school students in the tenth percentile of the family income distribution did about 35 minutes less learning per day than those from median-income families, and 1 hour and 10 minutes less that a child from a family in the 90th percentile of the income distribution. Similarly, Grewenig et al. (2021) and Werner and Woessmann (2021) find that during school closures, low-achieving students in Germany disproportionately replace learning time with less productive activities, such as playing video games.

School closures during the pandemic affect learning through three channels. First, there is a decline in the overall efficiency of skill accumulation because remote learning is less effective than in-person instruction. Second, parents have to replace some inputs that are usually provided by teachers. Parents’ ability to provide these inputs depends on time constraints: parents who are able to work from home during the pandemic have an easier time helping their children with school work than do essential workers who must work outside the home. Third, peer effects and peer-group formation is also disrupted during the pandemic.

Agostinelli et al. (2022) assess the contribution of these channels to educational inequality. All three channels are found to contribute to a widening of educational inequality. While all parents increase their time investments during the pandemic, the ability of low-income parents to respond is hampered by the fact they are much less likely to have jobs that can be done from home. Hence, inequality in parental input increases between high- and low-income neighbourhoods. Inequality in peer effects also rises, in part because children from low-income neighbourhoods lose the ability to meet more high-ability peers at school, and in part because the effect of losing any peer connection on learning is worse for children already struggling in school.

In the US, secondary and public schools were closed for longer periods than elementary and private schools, respectively. Fuchs-Schündeln et al. (2021) predict that the earnings- and welfare losses will be largest for children who started public secondary schools at the onset of the crisis. Welfare losses are smaller for children from richer families, who are more likely to send their children to private school. The authors further suggest that a policy intervention to extend schooling (by shortening the summer breaks in future years) would raise tax contributions sufficiently to be self-financing.

Survey evidence shows that considerably fewer children continued learning activities during school closures in low-income countries, with particularly large reductions in sub-Saharan Africa. Limited education funding and less access to communications technology implies that few children had access to virtual lessons during school closures. Many children essentially received no education at all during prolonged school closures, so that the total learning loss is likely to be severe. Moreover, beyond the size of the learning loss, a given learning loss is likely to have a greater long-run economic impact in low-income countries. This is partly due to demographic reasons. Low-income countries have much younger populations than do high-income countries, which means that cohorts of children finishing school are large compared to the adult labour force.

Commentators on both sides of the Atlantic have called for policy action to help offset the damaging effects of school closures. These primarily focus on what schools can do once children return. Proposed interventions include increased school funding, providing small group instruction, and lengthening the school day or year. All of these have potential, with targeted small group instruction shown to be especially fruitful. Evidence suggests that additional days spent at school raise test scores for poorer students, but the likelihood of diminishing returns means the optimal length of the post-pandemic school year is unclear.

It has already become clear that the pandemic has had a major negative impact on many children’s learning and is likely to have substantially increased educational inequality within the affected cohorts. Tracing the effect of this shock over the following years and contributing to the design of effective policy responses represents an important challenge for future research.

This post is an edited extract from Education inequality: a Centre for Economic Performance discussion paper, by Jo Blanden, Matthias Doepke, and Jan Stuhler, April 2022. 

Levelling up education and skills: a recipe for success?

By Blog Editor, on 3 February 2022

Claire Crawford, Laura Outhwaite, Sam Sims and Gill Wyness

It’s finally here: an answer to the question of what the government means by ‘levelling up’. On the education and skills front, it seems to involve some seriously ambitious targets: a massive increase in the percentage of children achieving the ‘expected’ level in reading, writing and maths at age 11 over the next eight years across all areas, with more than 50% rises needed to meet the target in most local authorities. Alongside these national targets, a set of 55 ‘Education Investment Areas’ – roughly the poorest performing third of local authorities in terms of primary and secondary school results – were identified, in which some new (and some re-announced) policies would be targeted.

It is good to have specific, measurable and stretching goals, but given the scale of ambition involved, there was very little detail of how we will actually get there – and no evidence of significant new resources to do it. Complex issues, like inequalities across the life course, require holistic solutions and joined up thinking across all aspects of the journey – things that simply cannot be delivered without appropriate funding. There was also little evidence of the embedding of new announcements within existing strategies – certainly in terms of the plans for educational technology, with the white paper championing the creation of a new online UK National Academy to support schools and children, without embedding this within the wider EdTech strategy.

There were some other glaring omissions as well . . .

Early years

“Potential is shaped from the very beginning of our lives, and all children and families need to be able to access high quality early years education, schools and support.” So began the ‘case for action’ underlying the pledge to ‘eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy’. The statement is correct: the best evidence we have, from both the UK and internationally, suggests that high quality early education benefits children – especially those from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds – in both the short-term and the long-term.

But – aside from the reannouncement of funds previously identified in the spending review to expand Family Hubs, the ‘Start for Life’ programme and the ‘Supporting Families’ programme – that was the only mention of early years anywhere in the 332 page document. More time was spent discussing the Roman Empire than the early years sector. Despite pointing out that there are significant regional differences in children’s development by age 5 – differences that are dwarfed by the even larger gaps in development between those who are and are not eligible for free school meals at the same age (18 percentage points: 57% vs 74%) – no mention was made of the crucial role investment in early years could play in reducing these gaps. At a time when the percentage of 0-4 year olds attending early years settings has still not recovered to pre-pandemic levels – with larger drops amongst those from more disadvantaged backgrounds and areas – as well as significant recruitment difficulties and funding challenges, this feels like a significant missed opportunity.

11-19 education

Perhaps the most eye-catching commitments were focused on schools and colleges, although not all of these were new announcements. The reintroduction of retention payments – “to help schools [in Education Investment Areas] with supply challenges to retain the best teachers in high-priority subjects” – was announced at the Conservative Party conference in 2021, and is a reincarnation of several previous versions of a similar policy. More on this below. We also reflect on the promise to “ensure that talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to a college, school sixth form or 16-19 academy, with a track record of progress on to leading universities”.

Teacher retention payments

The government is pledging an additional £3,000 (around 10% of a year’s salary) to early-career maths and science teachers in the 55 Education Investment Areas. (It is not clear yet whether this is per year or in-total.)

Will these retention payments be effective? That depends how we define effective. Similar policies have been shown to improve the retention of early-career teachers in the profession. If teachers can be retained for the first few years of their career, they are then much less likely to leave the profession prior to retirement, so the retention payments probably will increase the overall supply of science and maths teachers in England.

However, a recent systematic review suggests that incentives aimed at keeping teachers in specific schools or local areas are likely to be effective only as long as the policy is in place. It is possible that teachers will move away from the targeted areas when they no longer qualify for payments. Whether – or for how long – the policy will improve the supply of science and math teachers in these areas therefore depends on how long the policy is kept in place. It will also depend hugely on the size of the incentive: clarity over whether it is £3,000 per year across the early-career period, or £3,000 in total – either delivered in a single lump-sum or spread over a number of years – is needed before we can predict how effective this policy might be.

‘Elite sixth forms’

These sound like they could be grammar schools in all but name, given that the school admissions code allows sixth forms to select pupils on the basis of ability. While this might expand educational opportunities for a small number of high achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds, it is likely to widen inequalities within the areas more broadly. We have strong evidence from the areas of England which still operate large numbers of grammar schools that suggests these systems widen inequalities in attainment during school, in higher education and in subsequent earnings, because while they generally improve outcomes for those fortunate enough to attend the selective schools, they tend to worsen outcomes for those who miss out. The policy also seems somewhat at odds with the government’s recent shift in focus away from higher education and towards the long-neglected further education sector, almost a direct contrast to the aim of encouraging greater parity between academic and vocational routes. Why favour one and not the other here?

Higher education and skills

The continued focus on adult skills is, of course, welcome. Most of the announcements in the white paper are not new – although, to be fair, there was a skills white paper out last year. But many of the initiatives, while potentially promising, are quite ‘piecemeal’, targeting relatively small numbers of learners, and nowhere near enough to reverse the historical declines in either numbers of students or funding per head seen over the last decade. It’s also not clear to what extent some of the more specific initiatives – such as skills bootcamps – are evidence-based.

One new announcement is the Unit for Future Skills, which will champion a more data driven approach to identifying skills gaps. This has the potential to improve the ‘matching’ of workers and jobs, potentially leading to higher productivity in future. But they will have their work cut out for them, as we don’t know a whole lot about the skills people have (other than their qualifications), or which specific skills employers struggle to recruit or find difficult to train. We will watch this space with interest . . .

The role of the university sector – often lauded as an engine for regional growth – was limited to a few mentions here and there, although it sounds like it will benefit from increased funding for R&D.

Final thoughts

The white paper emphasises the importance of place in its version of levelling up. If successful, this means that the average difference in outcomes across areas may fall. But it is worth remembering that inequalities in outcomes, including education outcomes, tend to be larger within areas – between different groups – than across areas.

The education and skills policies outlined in the white paper make a reasonable attempt at targeting the benefits towards more disadvantaged individuals living in the Education Investment Areas. But of course there are plenty – indeed the majority – of individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds living in other areas, whose outcomes are far lower than those of their better-off peers. We must ensure that the political focus on the levelling up agenda does not displace any of the much-needed support for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, regardless of where they live.

The 2021 Autumn Budget and Spending Review: what does it mean for educational inequalities?

By Blog Editor, on 28 October 2021

Claire Crawford

The pandemic has disrupted life for everyone, but children and young people have seen perhaps the biggest changes to their day-to-day lives, with long periods spent away from school and their friends leading to significant rises in mental health difficulties and a substantial reduction in learning. Moreover, these challenges have not been felt equally: the evidence suggests that the pandemic has also led to a rise in inequalities between children from different socio-economic backgrounds, from the early years through to secondary school and beyond.

A budget and multi-year spending review delivered against a backdrop of the highest peace-time borrowing levels ever, and by a chancellor on a ‘moral’ mission to limit the size of the state, was unlikely to deliver the sort of investments in education that Sir Kevan Collins hoped to see when he took the role of ‘catch-up tsar’ earlier this year. But what did it deliver for education? And is it likely to help roll back the rises in educational inequalities that the pandemic has generated?

Early years

While it is positive to see some recognition of the need for a higher funding rate to be paid to early education providers to cover the delivery of the early education entitlements for 2, 3 and 4 year olds, the amount earmarked – £170m in 2024-25 – does not represent the substantial investment that many in the sector have been calling for: certainly nowhere near the £2.60 per hour increase that was estimated to be needed to fully fund the entitlement, enabling providers to deliver these hours without incurring a loss, or by charging for ‘extras’ (such as food or nappies) or increasing fees for other children in order to cover costs.

We await the details of exactly what this means for the official funding rate per hour. Still, for some idea of scale, spending on all early education entitlements – the universal 15 hour entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds, the additional 15 hours for 3 and 4 year olds via the extended entitlement, and the 15 hour entitlement for disadvantaged 2 year olds – was around £3.8bn in 2019-20. 170m represents less than a 5% increase on this figure. Putting it another way, in 2019-20, a total of around 1.75 million children were benefitting from each of the free early education entitlements. If the number of children taking up these places was to remain unchanged between 2019-20 and 2024-25, this suggests that early education providers would only receive around £100 per year more per child than they do now. In reality, the population of 2, 3 and 4 year olds is expected to fall over the next few years, which – when coupled with the reduction in take-up of the early education entitlements that we have seen over the course of the pandemic – may mean that the actual increase in funding rates is higher than 5%. But not much higher.

Likewise, while greater investment in family support services is also welcome, the much-trumpeted £500m increase represents less than half of the reduction in spending on Sure Start Children’s Centres that has taken place over the last decade, falling by over £1bn (around two thirds) in real-terms from a peak of around £1.8bn in 2009-10. A start, perhaps, but not the transformative ‘Start for Life’ that the rhetoric surrounding this announcement would suggest.

Schools

Yesterday’s announcements on schools were dominated by the news that school funding would return to real-terms levels last seen in 2010. Not much to write home about, you might think. But there was also only a small amount of additional money for education catch-up, including an increase in the ‘recovery premium’ – catch-up money targeted towards pupils from lower income families – for secondary school pupils. While it is positive to see funds being targeted towards the pupils most in need of support, our work has shown that the differences in remote learning experiences while schools were closed to most pupils varied substantially by socio-economic background, and whether the roughly £5bn allocated to catch-up will be enough to redress the balance is unclear. It certainly amounts to a lot less than is being spent per pupil in other countries.

Further and higher education

Despite rumours circulating in the media, the decision on the funding of higher education was kicked into the long grass yet again, with the words ‘higher education’ mentioned only three times in the Budget and Spending Review document, and more information promised “in the coming weeks”.

Meanwhile, the eye-catching nominal and real-terms increases announced for further education (FE) and skills look decidedly less generous once account is taken of the fact that we are about to experience a massive increase in the population of 16-19 year olds. The document itself acknowledges that while there will be a 28% real-terms increase in 16-19 funding in 2024-25 compared to 2019-20, this will only maintain – rather than increase – funding per student in real terms. Despite a much greater emphasis in policy discourse about the importance of further education and adult learning than we have seen in recent years, this settlement does not suggest a transformation of the fortunes of the FE sector, which caters to the majority of each academic cohort and in which young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are over-represented.

Implications for inequalities

Perhaps contrary to expectations, yesterday’s spending review contained increases in spending for most government departments, paid for by the highest tax rises in nearly 30 years. But given the significant challenges posed by the pandemic for children and young people, the Department for Education’s budget will be only a little higher in 2024-25 than it was in 2009-10, while the Department of Health and Social Care budget will have increased by over 40%.

The thinking seems to be that children will catch-up over time anyway. But the evidence suggests that inequalities in educational attainment only increase as children get older: higher socio-economic status parents can provide more opportunities for learning – through better schools, tutoring or more academic and non-academic enrichment activities – than lower socio-economic status parents, and these investments cumulate over time, widening the gap between those from different backgrounds. The same will be true of parents’ ability to support their children to ‘catch-up’ on what they lost during the pandemic.

Without significant government investment to support children from more disadvantaged backgrounds, the wider inequalities that have opened up over the course of the pandemic are likely to foreshadow even greater inequalities in future. Yesterday’s spending review offered some support – but nowhere near enough.

There can be no “levelling up” without education recovery

By IOE Editor, on 3 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

By IOE Editor, on 17 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

By IOE Editor, on 23 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.