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Middle-class children ‘spend more time learning’ in lockdown than poorer peers

Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent
·4-min read

Children from middle-class families are spending more time each day learning during this lockdown compared with their poorer peers, a survey suggests.

Parents on lower incomes are more likely to say they are finding this period of school closures more difficult than the first, according to a Sutton Trust report.

The impact of the latest round of school closures on the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils is likely to be significant, the report warns.

Schools are better prepared in delivering remote learning this time round, the research suggests, with 23% of primary school pupils doing more than five hours of learning a day, up from 11% in late March.

But socio-economic gaps still remain as 35% of the poorest households report that their children still do not have access to sufficient devices for online learning, compared to 11% of high income households.

Two in five children in middle-class families are spending more than five hours a day on schoolwork, compared to 26% of those in working-class households.

The poll, of 877 parents, found that two in five (41%) said that they have not very much time, or no time at all, to help their children with online learning,

Poorer parents are struggling the most, with 28% of families on low incomes saying they are finding the latest lockdown more difficult than the first, compared to 15% of the most affluent parents.

Watch: COVID-19 - School closures could wipe out a decade of progress for less privileged pupils

Another survey for the Sutton Trust research, of more than 6,000 teachers in England, suggests that 52% of school staff cited a faster rollout of laptops as the single most helpful intervention for poorer pupils.

Just 5% of teachers in state schools said that all their pupils had access to a device, compared to 54% in private schools, according to the report.

The research found that 86% of private schools are using online live lessons this lockdown compared to 50% in state schools – a gap which has widened since March as state provision has been “outpaced” by the private sector.

The Sutton Trust charity is calling on the Government to ensure that schools are resourced to help those who have lost out on learning the most.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The first period of school closures have had a huge impact on all young people, but particularly those from lower-income backgrounds. The repercussions of these months of lost learning are devastating and will be felt for years to come. It’s imperative that we don’t let this happen again.

“Today’s research shows that schools are now better equipped to deliver online teaching. But significant barriers remain that threaten to widen the gap between rich and poor pupils still further.

“The immediate priority has to be to address the gap in digital provision between rich and poor. The government has made good progress, but they need to do more.”

He added: “There also has to be substantial additional funding for schools when they reopen, focussed on students from low-income backgrounds who have fallen even further behind.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools have made “enormous progress” in developing remote education since the first lockdown.

But he said: “However, remote education is simply not a substitute for classroom teaching because of problems such as how much time parents have available to help their children, and lack of access to laptops. Often it is the most disadvantaged children who are further disadvantaged.

“It is pretty clear from this research that there are still significant gaps in laptop provision despite the government’s programme to provide devices to disadvantaged youngsters. The government was too slow to respond to this issue earlier in the crisis, and we are not sure it has ever really got to grips with the level of need.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are aware of the additional challenges faced by disadvantaged children during this crisis, which is why we are providing 1.3 million laptops and tablets for those children who need them most, with over more than 800,000 of these delivered already, alongside access to free mobile data for disadvantaged families.

“It is encouraging to see the substantial increase in teachers providing online live lessons for pupils during this lockdown.”

– Teacher Tapp surveyed up to 6,475 teachers in schools across England between January 7 and 15. YouGov polled 877 parents across the UK with school children between January 13 and 14.

Watch: COVID-19 - Schools to get two weeks' notice before reopening - says Education Secretary Gavin Williamson