Big disparities in success of online learning during the school lockdown, research shows

The amount of learning taking place at home during the lockdown period varied hugely across the four UK countries during the school lockdown, a study from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) shows.

The report, Education policy responses across the UK to the Pandemic, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, shows that the hours of home-schooling were highest in London, the South East and South West of England, with around a quarter of pupils learning for over 4 hours per day.

They were lowest in Wales, Scotland, the Midlands and Northern England, where just 15% or less learned for 4 or more hours per day. In Northern Ireland, 18% pupils learned for more than 4 hours a day.

The report said that “home schooling will have represented a significant challenge, given the speed at which arrangements were made, parents’ lack of experience in providing home schooling, the need for many parents to continue working through lockdown and a lack of necessary space or equipment amongst some pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

The EPI found “strong evidence” that disadvantaged pupils received the least amount of home-learning: differences in home-learning between high- and low- income families equated to about 75 minutes per day.

Overall, more home learning supervision was undertaken by mothers than fathers, with mothers doing about 1.5 more hours of home-schooling per day. This was particularly likely to interfere with work for graduate mothers. In Northern Ireland, the difference was particularly stark with two-thirds of mothers engaging in home-schooling compared with 14% of fathers.

The nature of the support provided by schools also varied. Children from more affluent families were more likely to receive live online classes or other forms of active teaching support from schools, with larger differences for secondary schools. About 24% of teachers provided live online lessons, and 60% provided recorded content, with similar shares providing project work or worksheets. However, this varied between the regions and UK countries.

All UK nations made significant efforts to provide digital devices to pupils from poorer backgrounds, the EPI said. However, there were stark differences in the speed of delivery. The study found that Wales’ response to addressing the lack of access to online learning was commendable, with the Welsh government drawing on “well-established infrastructure, allowing them to act quickly following the closures. Policymakers and schools were able to re-purpose existing stocks of laptops and send internet routers to disadvantaged learners by the end of May”.

In England, the delivery of laptops and internet routers came later, as new procurement systems were needed, but most equipment was delivered by the end of June. However, in Scotland and Northern Ireland the response was far slower. Laptop and internet delivery in these countries was not complete by the end of the school year, leaving poorer pupils to wait several months to access online learning materials.

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Dorothy Lepkowska

Dorothy Lepkowska

Dorothy is the Communications Lead on EDUCATE Ventures, and former education correspondent of several national newspapers.

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