2m children in UK ‘have done almost no school work in lockdown’

Private school pupils are five times more likely to get near-full-time teaching online during lockdown as those at state schools, according to research that suggests far less school work is being done at home than previously thought.

The study, by the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), found that 2 million children in the UK – about one in five – had done no school work at all, or managed less than an hour a day while studying at home.

On average, pupils spent 2.5 hours a day doing schoolwork – half what was estimated in an earlier survey – while just 17% have put in more than four hours a day since schools closed in March as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prof Francis Green, the lead author of the study, said its findings painted a gloomy picture of lost schooling and low amounts of schoolwork at home.

He said: “The closure of schools, and their only-partial reopening, constitute a potential threat to the educational development of a generation of children.

“Everyone is losing out in this generation, some much more than others. Better home schoolwork provision, and better still an early safe return to school for as many as possible, should now become a top priority for government.”

Seven out of 10 state school children (71%) have had no online lessons at all, or less than one a day, the research found. Almost a third of private schools (31%) have been providing four or more online lessons every day, compared with 6% of state schools providing such a comprehensive timetable.

The digital divide has also played a key role in significant discrepancies in home study. Nearly all private schoolchildren (97%) who formed part of the survey had access to a computer at home, while one in five of those on free school meals had no access.

Private schools have also provided more offline work during lockdown – 31% provided four pieces or more, compared with 22% of state schools. In half of private schools, pupils have spent upwards of four hours a day on schoolwork, compared with just 18% of state schools.

The findings, published by the LLAKES Centre for Research on Learning and Life Chances, are based on data collected in the last two weeks of April from a survey covering more than 4,500 children aged five and upwards from households across the UK.

“The private schools’ spending per pupil – at least three times those of state schools – enable them to gain better academic grades in normal times,” said Green. “Their resources and parental pressure have ensured that many more private schools have delivered a proper home schooling alternative.”

Among the geographical differences, online teaching is most common in London, with 12.5% of children receiving four or more online lessons or meetings daily, compared with a UK average of 7% and just 2% in Wales.

Children eligible for free school meals (FSM) are at a particular disadvantage, with 15% getting four or more pieces of offline schoolwork compared with 21% of non-FSM pupils. Meanwhile, 11% of those on free school meals spent more than four hours on schoolwork compared with nearly a fifth (19%) of their non-FSM classmates.

The findings came as secondary school pupils who are due to sit exams next summer began to return to class for some face-to-face time ahead of the summer holiday. Last week, the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, was forced to admit defeat over plans for all primary schools to fully reopen before the summer holidays.

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