Pupils’ grades in “economically deprived” areas drop by double the average during pandemic

London, 23 February 2021: Pupils across England are two months behind in grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS) and one month behind in both maths and reading on average. Disadvantaged children have fallen much further behind, according to new RS Assessment from Hodder Education (a division of Hachette UK) data taken from core subject tests sat by 250,000 primary school pupils across Years 1 to 6 in England.

The data is the most extensive review of attainment since the pandemic began. It covers widely-used tests for reading (PiRA), maths (PUMA), and grammar, punctuation and spelling (GAPS), which were undertaken at the end of the autumn term 2020.

The key findings in the report include:

The attainment gap widens – with maths taking the biggest hit

The data shows a concerning increase in the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils, who have fallen six months behind schedule on average. The average difference in standardised scores between pupils eligible for the pupil premium and their peers reached -6 in reading, -7 in maths, and -7 in GPS.

The furthest lag between these pupils and their classmates was in Year 6 maths, where they are on average 9 standardised score points behind – the equivalent to seven months of learning.

Scores drop most steeply in the Midlands and the North

Schools in the Midlands saw the most significant declines in scores. Reading scores decreased most sharply in the Midlands, dropping 1.26 standardised score points. Maths scores in the Midlands also dropped by the largest amount nationwide, with results dropping by an average of 2.42 points. Year 5 pupils in the Midlands were most impacted, experiencing the largest national decrease in maths scores, a 3.74 point drop compared with last year.

The most severe decrease in GPS scores was seen in the North, where scores dropped by 2.75 points. The steepest decline of any year or region was among Year 1 pupils in the North, who lost 3.72 points.


Average scores for pupils in economically deprived regions fell at approximately double the rate of others

Schools in locations that the government considers to have “high economic deprivation”* experienced decreases in scores approximately twice as severe as schools in other areas.

Average year-over-year reading scores for schools in high-deprivation areas dropped by 1.16 standardised score points, while medium and low deprivation areas dropped by 0.74 and 0.17, respectively. Average maths scores dropped by 2 points in high deprivation areas, compared with 0.93 and 0.44 points in medium and low areas. Scores in GPS were the most disparate, as high deprivation areas dropped by 2.69 points while medium and low areas dropped by 1.17 and 0.98 points respectively.

Number of pupils performing “well below expectations” increases

At the end of the term, there were small declines in attainment compared to the previous year, across virtually all subjects and year groups. The decline in test scores was only a fifth of that seen at the start of the term, suggesting considerable catch-up between September and December 2020, when most schools re-opened.

Despite an improvement, there are still reasons for concern about academic attainment. Across all papers and year groups, there has been a decrease in the number of pupils attaining top-band results and an increase in the number receiving results in the lowest band – a standardised score which represents results “well below expectations.” This suggests that more children are finding it difficult to keep up with the curriculum this school year.

Katie Blainey, Publishing Director at RS Assessment from Hodder Education, comments:

“We know the continued disruption in schools is affecting children’s education across the country in different ways, and we hope that our large-scale analysis helps to shine a light on where support is most needed. We are encouraged to see overall attainment very close to prior years, highlighting the continued hard work of teachers throughout this challenging time.

“However, we are aware that there are increases in educational disparities related to poverty. We hope that our analysis will highlight this and help ensure all children, regardless of background, get a fair education.”

Simon Burgess, Professor of Economics at University of Bristol, comments:

“These data are vital to get a sense of the scale of the learning loss to make up as the government considers strategies to help young people recover. The results confirm fears that most pupils have experienced significant learning losses, and that these losses are unequally distributed.

“For example, the learning gap in maths between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils grew by about 40 percent for Year 6 pupils between 2019 and 2020. This type of evidence is very concerning and needs to be at the forefront of discussions around learning catch-up.”

The data was provided by RS Assessment from Hodder Education with insights provided by education data analytics company SchoolDash.

Download the full report here.