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Blog 1: Emerging findings - March 2021

The first round of data collection and analysis in the ICKLE project has produced summary findings as follows.

Executive summary

  • School disruption in spring 2020 resulted in variability in the educational provision for children who were beginning their formal schooling in September 2020
  • The capacity of families to engage in home learning was affected by their home, family and working circumstances, with parents’ time being a key factor
  • In our sample of ~450 reception-aged children, 16% made no progress between spring and autumn 2020 in key curriculum areas. A further 45% made only some progress
  • Poorer progress was associated with known factors (special educational needs, household deprivation) but was also associated with fewer resources provided by school and less engagement in home learning
  • School disruptions have created new inequalities in young children’s learning, redefining the concept of ‘disadvantaged’ children
  • We recommend that, in the event of future school disruption, the Department for Education should support schools to facilitate home learning by suggesting a range of differentiated approaches and activities to develop specific learning objectives across the curriculum areas

Topline findings

Our data show high variability in school provision, home learning and pupil progress. Some children made less progress than others. This was linked to child-level factors known to affect academic progress (age, special educational needs, socio-economic disadvantage). However, importantly, our data provide evidence of newly created differences between schools (the number of home learning resources and how frequently new work was set) and families (the capacity to engage with home learning) during home learning that affected children’s progress.

The schools participating in the ICKLE project worked hard to provide a variety of resources across different curriculum areas. Our initial data indicate that children in schools providing more resources made more progress. However, providing new activities too often was associated with poorer progress. This may reflect a lack of structure at school level, or families not ‘keeping up’. Overall, teachers’ ratings of how well families engaged with remote learning (based on their records) were associated with progress: children made more progress when families engaged with the school’s provision.

Roughly half the parents of the children in the project completed our home learning survey. In these families, most children were supervised daily, to learn across the curriculum. However, this may not be true of families who did not provide information via the survey. Equally, access to IT equipment was not a barrier to engagement in our sample (except for access to a printer), but it may have been problematic for families who did not complete the survey.

Parents’ responses suggest a range of family factors influencing how well they were able to engage with home learning. These included the time parents had to prepare for and supervise learning. During the period of home schooling in spring 2020, many parents were simultaneously working and/or caring for other children. Parents are a key resource, but they vary in what they can provide. This affects home learning, which in turn creates new inequalities impacting children’s progress. The parents were appreciative of schools’ and teachers’ efforts, but their open-ended comments alluded to the period as “very tough”, “frustrating”, “stressful”, “a struggle”.

We know from published research that Personal Social and Emotional Development is essential for effective learning.

Our main priorities were ensuring [child’s] emotional and physical wellbeing rather than her academic progress.

It is clear from our data that many parents prioritised their children’s wellbeing and happiness:

My focus throughout lockdown was keeping the children happy.

Home learning cannot take place if the broader environment is not conducive to learning.

Our data show that vulnerable and disadvantaged children (those from more deprived backgrounds, and those with SEND or receiving additional support) made less progress during this period of disruption to schooling. In addition, the capacity of families to engage with home learning may have created new inequalities, redefining ‘disadvantage’.