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Four in ten school pupils not in regular contact with teachers amid sharp coronavirus divide, new survey reveals

The figures were published after the Department for Education updated its guidance for school reopenings. (PA)

3 min read

Four in ten school pupils are not in regular contact with their teachers amid a sharp divide between richer and poorer pupils in the coronavirus lockdown, a new survey has revealed.

A study by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) reveals that teachers in England’s schools report being in regular contact with just 60% of their pupils.

And less than half (42 percent) of students returned their last piece of set work. 

School leaders meanwhile believe that around a third of pupils (between 29 and 27%) “are not engaging with set work at all”.

The figures come after the Government was forced to shelve its plans for all primary school pupils to return to the classroom before the summer holidays, instead setting out fresh guidance on Monday to encourage schools to reopen.

The NFER study also highlights the gulf between England’s most and least deprived schools after months of closures.

Ninety-three percent of school leaders in the most deprived schools say they have some pupils “with limited access to IT at home” for remote learning, compared to 73% of school leaders in the least deprived ones. 

Teachers told the study that just over half (55%) of their pupils’ parents were engaged with their children’s home learning — with that figure standing at 41% in the most deprived schools compared to 62% in the least.

Schools with the highest levels of deprivation — measured by the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals — meanwhile appear to have much lower levels of pupil engagement.

Teachers in the most deprived schools report that just 30% of pupils returned their last piece of work, compared to 49% in the least deprived ones.

Launching the study, NFER chief executive Carole Willis said: “There are considerable differences in the levels of pupil engagement in remote learning, particularly amongst the most disadvantaged pupils. 

“This supports a growing evidence base highlighting the risk of the attainment gap widening as a result of this pandemic. There is a pressing need for a comprehensive and long-term plan to address this issue.”

Josh Hillman, director of Education at Nuffield Foundation think tank said: “The shift to remote learning during lockdown has made the implications of children and young people’s unequal access to IT equipment and connectivity even more stark. It has also highlighted sharp disparities in the extent to which students are engaging with their school work away from classrooms.”

The figures were published after the Department for Education updated its guidance for school reopenings, with primary schools with extra capacity now able to welcome back pupils from any year group — a shift in the Government’s previous position of seeking a phased return of “priority” groups.

The DfE said: “It is up to schools to decide which pupils to prioritise, based on their knowledge of their children and communities.

“They may choose to welcome back pupils in another year group.”

But Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: "Head teachers will despair at yet another announcement from a government seemingly without a plan.”

And he added: "Teachers and school leaders are already doing all they can and need time to plan for more. The government is just increasing pressure by announcing changes to wider opening in dribs and drabs.
"Government needs to put more thought into how they can use other buildings, and bring more staff back into teaching, rather than placing all responsibility on individual school leaders.”

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