schoolwork covid19

Has a lack of schoolwork in lockdown caused ‘educational poverty’?

The closure of schools during the coronavirus pandemic poses a significant threat to the ‘educational development of a generation of children’. That is the opinion of Francis Green, Professor of Work and Education Economics, UCL Institute of Education.

In a recent research paper, Green looks at whether schoolwork assigned during lockdown has resulted in educational poverty for students.

How much schoolwork was completed during lockdown?

During lockdown, the only students in school were the children of key workers, making it difficult to track the productivity and progress of everybody else.

In his report, Green calls upon high-quality data gathered one month into lockdown to understand how much mitigating schoolwork has been taking place in homes across the country, as well as how much support was given by education leaders and policy makers.

It finds that the average amount of schoolwork being done at home, according to parents and family members, was worryingly low:

  • Children locked down at home in the UK spent an average of only 2.5 hours each day doing schoolwork. This figure is about half that suggested by a previous survey, suggesting that learning losses are much greater than feared.
  • Most homework consisted of assignments, worksheets and watching videos. On average children were given two such pieces of homework a day.
  • The extent of online lessons provision in state schools was minimal: 71 percent of state school children received no or less than one daily online lesson.

The extent of school provision for homes varied substantially according to earlier surveys. For example, one fifth of pupils – over two million children – did no schoolwork at home, or less than an hour a day.

Schoolwork completion by region and social group

Green’s research into schoolwork completion rates also show big inequality between regions and social groups:

  • Offline schoolwork is lowest in the Northeast of England, where the proportion receiving four or more daily pieces is just 9 percent, compared with the country-wide average of 20 percent. In the Southeast region, 28 percent of children are receiving four or more pieces of offline schoolwork per day.
  • The proportion of children in receipt of free school meals who spent more than four hours on schoolwork was 11 percent, as compared with 19 percent among those not eligible.
  • 31 percent of private schools provided four or more live online lessons daily, as compared with just 6 percent in state schools. Support from teachers checking private school pupils’ work was strong, and virtually all private school children (97 percent) had access to a computer at home.
  • One in five of those on free school meals had no access to a computer at home.
  • Asian children were being given more offline schoolwork, but took the same amount of time on schoolwork as other children.
  • 20 percent of girls put in four or more hours on schoolwork during lockdown, as compared with 14 percent of boys.

Because of these findings, Green concludes the report by calling on the government to give education a much greater priority in the management of the pandemic response, and for this response to include a focus on regional disparities.

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