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COVID-19 and literacy: Secondary schools

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Learning loss in secondary schools

Teachers, librarians and families made extraordinary efforts to support young people's learning while schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, these closures exposed the greater number of challenges faced by young people from lower income backgrounds.

In 2020 and 2021, GCSE examinations were cancelled, and students were instead graded based on teacher assessments. In 2022, examinations were resumed.

More content

  • GCSEs

    Grades in 2022 were lower than in 2020 and 2021, when they were decided through teacher assessment, but higher than in 2019. In England, there were clear regional differences. For example, in London, 32.6% of papers were marked at grades 7/A and above, but in Yorkshire and the Humber just 22.4% of papers achieved this grade.

  • Reading

    Commercial reading assessments conducted during the pandemic found that, by Autumn 2021, secondary pupils from non-disadvantaged backgrounds were 2.0 months behind expectations in reading, while pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were 3.5 months behind expectations (RL & EPI, 2022).

  • Writing

    Across the board, daily writing levels recovered somewhat between 2020 and 2021, having declined in 2020. However, the increase in daily writing was more pronounced in those attending secondary school (aged 11 +) compared with those attending primary schools. Read more.

How we can help

Further support for schools


Support for young people

Our sister site Zone In provides tips on boosting reading, writing, speaking and listening skills for young adults.

Visit Zone In on Words for Life