How do we make up for lost learning?

|4 min read

Researchers are still trying to pinpoint exactly how much learning has been lost by UK pupils since the pandemic began.

However, most studies agree school closures and the shift to remote learning have had a negative impact on learning, and the effects are more severe for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

By the end of the summer term in 2021, for instance, learning losses were 2.6 months on average for primary maths pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared with 2.1 months for their non-disadvantaged peers, the Education Policy Institute reported in October.

That aligns with a Centre for Economic Performance study last year that found between March 2020 and April 2021, UK pupils on average lost about a third of the learning they would have gained had the pandemic not happened, raising “significant concerns about scarring effects.”

It’s a similar story around the world.

A Frontiers in Psychology report published in September, in which researchers analysed nine separate studies from countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, concluded younger children were more negatively affected than older children and those from families with a low socio-economic status were more negatively affected than their high socio-economic-status peers.

In the U.S. a study of assessment data for 3 million students found those in majority-Black schools were five months behind where they would otherwise have been, compared with two months for students in majority-White schools.

And a Unicef report on lost learning published in December found a disproportionate impact on the most marginalised and vulnerable, with greater losses for students of lower socioeconomic status in countries like Ghana, Mexico, and Pakistan.

The Unicef report also pointed out that less than 3% of government stimulus has been allocated to education.

Perhaps things are changing.

Earlier this month, the UK government released details of its ‘Levelling Up’ plan, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson called “the most comprehensive, ambitious plan of its kind that this country has ever seen,” and one designed to “break the link between geography and destiny” by creating equal opportunities across the country.

The plan pledges, among other things, that by 2030, “the number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have significantly increased. In England, this will mean 90% of children will achieve the expected standard.”

But how?

Research suggests that “small tinkering and minor tweaks” won’t be enough, Henry Overman, Research Director of the Centre for Economic Performance, said in a blog post.

The government’s Levelling Up plan “recognises these issues with its focus on education and health,” he said. But “the funds committed so far do not appear to be proportionate to the scale of the challenge.”

Those sentiments were echoed by a primary school teacher in Somerset who wrote in The Guardian last year that schools need a long-term injection of major funding to improve outcomes. “We don’t need silly initiatives, over-testing and constant inspection, we just need proper provision of resources like our colleagues in the private sector,” she said.

We couldn’t agree more.

Providing high-quality, evidence-based, sequenced learning resources is something we here at Maths — No Problem! take seriously. We believe a mastery approach, with its focus on whole-class learning, proven pedagogical theories and intensive professional development, is one of the most cost-effective solutions that could possibly be implemented to improve educational outcomes across society.

The maths mastery approach to teaching has been shown time and again to help pupils build confidence and to develop a secure and long-lasting understanding of core concepts.

Not only that, what we’ve found is that schools following the mastery approach and using our high-quality products haven’t suffered the same learning losses as other UK schools.

“While the national picture suggests children from UK schools showed a decline in maths learning, this hasn’t been the case with Sandringham,” said Robert Cleary, Head Teacher at Sandringham Primary School in London. “In fact, Sandringham has fared better than other schools because of the mastery approach — children were used to the practice and routine.”

Early in the pandemic, Charlie Stripp, director of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics, advised against putting pressure on students to catch up. He said “calm, consolidation of maths knowledge is what’s needed” to increase students’ confidence.

We urge school leaders to consider giving the Maths — No Problem! Programme a try. We believe it’s the surest way to reduce much of the anxiety surrounding maths, particularly now in the wake of pandemic disruptions, when pressure will be on teachers and pupils alike to make up for lost learning and to be among the 90% that achieves the expected standard.