By Barry Black, postgraduate researcher, University of Glasgow School of Social and Political Sciences
School campus closures have affected just over a million pupils in Scotland. While learning has continued, there is a recognition that the current environment will have an impact on the attainment of all pupils, but particularly the most disadvantaged. Scotland entered this crisis with a significant and stubborn poverty-related attainment gap, a product of wider socio-economic inequalities. Inequalities already proving to be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The question then for policymakers is Will the public health measures implemented to stem the transmission of the virus negatively impact on the existing educational inequalities among Scottish pupils?
This question is particularly important as young people return to school on 11th August with a dual online/in-class curriculum.
We can look to knowledge already developed to start to piece together potential outcomes. Summer learning loss has been a focus of education research for some time now. A range of studies conducted on different age groups and in different countries has found that while the learning ability of the richest pupils continues to increase in the summer months, it decreases for the poorest. A University of Glasgow study noted ‘during the summer months, children from low-income families fall weeks or months behind their middle- and high-income peers‘. There is a real risk that this period – the longest period out of the classroom in living memory – exacerbates this loss.
With all learning now being online, there is also a necessary question of equal access to the ‘virtual classroom’. We can find some answers to this in the small but growing number of international, ‘real time’ evidence related to lockdown.
While the numbers of young people struggling with digital access in Scotland is not known, efforts are being made to ensure technology provision for all. While this is clearly key to online learning, it is merely the basic foundations of being able to access online content. Much more important is the ability to use that content in a way that is useful to learning. This is where the home learning environment and deep, generational issues such as parental attainment are key.
Research on lockdown from around the UK is finding that poorer students are being the most impacted by the shift to online learning. Engagement, support and resources for learning all exhibit distinct differences for pupils of different socioeconomic groups. Parents’ confidence to support learning is directly linked to their level of education. As parents will have a larger day-to-day role in formal education for at least the next year, their attainment – long found as a predictor of pupils’ ‘success’ at school – will become even more prominent.
This research briefing discusses these issues in fuller detail and concludes that planning must be made for simultaneous potential outcomes in Scotland:
- It is likely that the overall pace of attainment will have slowed during this period compared to if schools had been able to operate as normal.
- The attainment of the most disadvantaged young people will be depressed more acutely due to an exacerbated version of ‘summer learning loss’. In short, schools will return in August with even larger poverty-related attainment gaps.
- The poverty-related attainment gap will likely grow at a larger rate over the 2020/21 academic term than would be usual in a ‘normal’ year of schooling, due to the switch to integrated online learning and the challenges this presents for the provision of technology and support for learning.
It also discusses some of the possible interventions that can be made to mitigate these such as summer catch up classes, prioritising the most disadvantage for a return to the classroom and cancelling the next exam diet.
There is an understandable temptation to view lockdown and its potential impact on the most disadvantaged pupils in isolation – a one-time ‘event’ which will have its negative impact that can be later rectified. As discussed throughout this briefing however, the reality of what schooling will look like in August poses the same threat of widening the gap in attainment between the most and least deprived. It is this threat that we have the greatest chance of mitigating. We must not forget that Scotland entered lockdown with a significant and stubborn attainment gap. COVID-19 only makes the challenge of closing it more difficult, but close it we must.
To cite this article: Black, Barry. Attainment and disadvantage in Scotland’s schools: what may the impact of lockdown be? Research and Policy Briefing, Policy Scotland, 5 June 2020, https://policyscotland.gla.ac.uk/attainment-and-disadvantage-in-scotlands-schools-the-impact-of-lockdown-briefing
Written content is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence.
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