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Rich kids spent 30% more time learning in lockdown than poorest peers, new research shows

Boris Johnson has described the return of schools in September as a ‘national priority’. (PA)

3 min read

The richest primary school pupils spent 30% more time learning during the coronavirus lockdown than their peers in the poorest families, stark new research shows.

In findings that will pile pressure on ministers to ensure a return to the classroom next month, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that the richest primary pupils spent on average 75 minutes more per day learning than those in the least well-off households during lockdown.

The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, finds there was “no gap” in the average amount of time spent learning between children from better and worse-off families prior to the coronavirus closures.

But it reveals that a “sizeable” gap in the time spent learning has now emerged for primary school pupils, even while the gap facing secondary school children has remained “no greater than it was” before the pandemic.

The findings come ahead of a government push to get all pupils in England back in school from next month, a task described as a “national priority” by Boris Johnson.

Angus Phimister, a Research Economist at the IFS, warned: “Unfortunately ramping up efforts to equalise the home learning experience through the levers available to schools and policy makers – such as providing children from poorer families with better learning materials and support from school – is unlikely to improve the situation significantly. 

“There seem to be few alternatives, if any, that are anywhere near as effective as re-opening schools for tackling growing educational inequalities.”

The IFS research reveals that learning time was “dramatically” lower across the board during lockdown than prior to it, with the average primary school pupil spending 4.5 hours learning on a typical lockdown school day compared to six hours in normal times.

Secondary school pupils have seen a 32% drop in time spent learning, from from 6.6 hours a day before the lockdown to just 4.5 hours a day while schools have been shut.

And the IFS said: “For primary school children, the lockdown has created new inequalities in learning time. 

“Before the pandemic, there was essentially no difference between the time that children from the poorest and richest households spent on educational activities. 

“But, during the lockdown, learning time fell by less among primary school children from the richest families than among their less well-off peers. 

“The end result is that, during the lockdown, the richest students spent 75 minutes a day longer on educational activities than their peers in the poorest families – an extra 31% of learning time.”


The research shows that, in secondary schools, the gap in time spent learning between the richest and poorest households during lockdown stands at 73 minutes per day.

But the IFS says this difference has “much deeper roots”, with secondary school pupils from the richest fifth of families spending almost an hour a day more time on education than their worst-off peers even before lockdown.

The study also reveals a stark divide in the learning resources available to richer and poorer children.

Around 42% of the poorest fifth of students in primary school received “some sort of active learning support from their school“, the IFS said, compared with 58% of the richest fifth.

“A similar gap exists for secondary school pupils, with 51% of the poorest fifth of pupils getting some sort of active resource compared with 68% of the richest fifth,” the researchers said.

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