New report on pupil learning loss from the pandemic published by the Department for Education

New research from Education Policy Institute (EPI) and Renaissance for the Depart for Education has found that learning losses for primary pupils in the 2021/2022 autumn term had shown signs of recovery since the 2020/2021 summer term.

But for pupils in secondary schools, in reading, there have been further losses amongst pupils since the summer.

Learning losses for disadvantaged pupils remain greater than their non-disadvantaged peers. Between the summer and autumn terms, the gap in progress between disadvantaged pupils and their peers widened in primary and secondary reading, but narrowed in primary maths.

Large regional disparities in learning losses persist, with pupils in parts of the north of England and the Midlands seeing greater losses than those living in other regions. 

Key findings from the new DfE research

Pupil learning loss at a national level

On average, pupils remain behind in reading and mathematics, compared with pre-pandemic progress. For secondary school pupils in reading, average learning losses increased between the summer and autumn terms.[1]

·       Primary reading: At a national level, by the end of the first half of the 2021/2022 autumn term, primary school pupils were on average 0.8 months behind in reading, compared to where they would be in a typical, pre-pandemic year. This level of learning loss was largely unchanged since the end of the 2020/21 summer term.

·       Primary maths: Primary school pupils were on average 1.9 months behind in maths by the end of the first half of autumn term. Pupils had recovered by 0.4 months since the end of the summer term. 

·       Secondary reading: Secondary school pupils were on average 2.4 months behind in reading by of the end of the first half of the autumn term. Learning losses had increased by 0.5 months since the end of the summer term.

Learning loss for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds

Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (those eligible for free school meals at some point over the last 6 years) have on average experienced greater learning losses than their non-disadvantaged peers.

·       Disadvantaged primary reading: At a national level, in the 2021/2022 autumn term, disadvantaged pupils in primary school were on average 1.4 months behind in their reading, compared to 0.5 months for non-disadvantaged pupils – a gap of 0.9 months. This difference in lost learning between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils has widened since the summer term.

·       Disadvantaged primary maths: Disadvantaged primary school pupils were on average 2.2 months behind in maths in the autumn term, compared to 1.8 months for non-disadvantaged pupils – a gap of 0.4 months. This difference in lost learning between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils has reduced since the summer term.

·       Disadvantaged secondary reading: Disadvantaged secondary school pupils were on average 3.5 months behind in reading in the autumn term, compared to 2.0 months for non-disadvantaged pupils – a substantial gap of 1.5 months. This difference in lost learning between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils has also widened since the summer term.

The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds is in addition to the existing gap in school attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, that was evident prior to the pandemic.

Pupil learning loss at a regional level

Substantial disparities in learning losses are apparent at a regional level, with pupils in certain areas experiencing larger losses than in other parts of the country. The rates of recovery between the end of the last school year and beginning of the current year also vary considerably. 

In the autumn term (2021/2022), average regional learning losses in reading for pupils in primary school were[2]:

·       East Midlands: -1.0 months (losses remain broadly the same as the summer term)

·       East of England: -0.5 months (losses remain broadly the same as the summer term)

·       London: -0.3 months (losses remain broadly the same)

·       North East: -1.3 months (further loss of 0.4 months)

·       North West:  -1.2 months (losses remain broadly the same as the summer term)

·       South East: -0.7 months (losses remain broadly the same as the summer term)

·       South West: -0.3 months (recovery of 0.3 months)

·       West Midlands: -0.9 months (recovery of 0.4 months)

·       Yorkshire and the Humber: -1.1 months (further loss of 0.4 months)


In the autumn term (2021/2022), average regional learning losses in reading for pupils in secondary school were:

·       East Midlands: -2.6 months (further loss of 0.6 months since the summer term)

·       East of England: -2.2 months (further loss of 0.5 months)

·       London: -1.8 months (further loss of 1.1 months)

·       North East: -3.1 months (further loss of 0.8 months

·       North West:  -3.2 months (further loss of 1.1 months)

·       South East: -2.2 months (losses remain broadly the same as the summer term)

·       South West: -2.2 months (further loss of 0.4 months)

·       West Midlands: -2.4 months (further loss of 0.7 months)

·       Yorkshire and the Humber: -3.0 months (losses remain broadly the same as the summer term)

Commenting on the new research, Jon Andrews, report author and Head of Analysis at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: 

“This research shows a mixed picture in relation to learning losses during the pandemic and the extent of pupil catch up.

"Our latest data shows a reduction in the extent of lost learning in primary maths since the summer. However, what is particularly concerning is the performance of secondary-aged pupils. Far from showing signs of recovery, they appear to be showing a greater degree of learning loss than they did at the end of the last school year. Disadvantaged children in secondary schools also appear to be falling further behind their non-disadvantaged peers in their reading.

"This research is helping us to identify where the learning losses are still large, by phase, subject, student characteristic and region. This should help policymakers to target extra support where it is most needed.”

John Moore, Managing Director UK/Australia at Renaissance, added:

“It’s vital we continue to track the impact of the disruption caused by COVID-19 on pupils’ learning, particularly when that tracking highlights ongoing concerns. The report analyses extensive longitudinal data provided by schools before, during and as we emerge from the pandemic and provides clear evidence that the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers persists.

“It’s only in understanding where and to what degree pupils might be falling behind that we can act to address these challenges. Building that picture now – and as we emerge from the pandemic – of how pupils are performing is a big piece of the puzzle and Renaissance is committed to working with schools to make that data and those insights easy to find, understand, and act upon, to help us all to learn from the past and plan for the future and ensure all pupils can reach their full potential.”