In 2021, 3 in 4 (76%) of schools reported that children who started Reception in autumn 2020 needed more support than children in previous cohorts, with children struggling in particular with communication and language, personal, social and emotional development and literacy.
A 2022 report found that ‘considerably more’ children from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds missed out on formal early learning in 2020 and 2021, with practitioners expressing concerns about a widening 'development gap'.
Communication and language development
A government briefing in 2022 highlighted the ongoing, negative impact of the pandemic on young children’s communication and language development, with greater numbers of children referred for additional support and increased pressure on waiting lists as a result.
Key Stage 2
The percentage of pupiles aged 7 to 11 reaching the expected standard in reading increased from 73% to 74% between 2019 and 2022, but dropped back to 73% in 2023. In writing, the percentage reaching the expected level dropped from 78% in 2019 to 69% in 2022, meaning 31% left primary school unable to write at the expected level, rising to 46% of disadvantaged children.
In early 2020, reading enjoyment levels were at a 15-year low, with just 47.8% of children and young people aged 8 to 18 saying they enjoyed reading. This increased to 55.9% in spring 2020, during the first lockdown, before dropping back down to 47.8% by early 2022 and further to 43.4% in 2023, its lowest level since 2005.
By Autumn 2021, secondary pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were 3.5 months behind expectations in reading, while their non-disadvantaged peers were 2 months behind.
Higher percentages of boys attained grade 7 or above in English in 2023. However, a slightly lower percentage of girls obtained a grade 4 or above compared with 2019. Notably, the disadvantage gap index widened to its highest level since 2011.
Our research found that during school closures, children and young people found themselves writing for enjoyment more, easing feelings of anxiety. There was an increase in daily writing levels between 2020 and 2021 across all age groups, however, while levels of writing enjoyment increased between 2021 and 2022 for most children and young people, they remained similar for secondary-school aged pupils.
How we can help
We offer support and resources for teachers, parents and practitioners working to help support those most affected by COVID-19.