EEF publishes new research on the impact of the pandemic on Key Stage 1 pupils’ attainment

Further research confirms young pupils’ achievement in reading and maths remains significantly lower than before the pandemic, and the gap between children from low and high income households (the disadvantage gap) remains wide.

Today the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published further findings from an ongoing study, by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), examining the impact of Covid-19 related disruption on the attainment of Key Stage 1 (five – seven year olds) pupils.

NFER’s analysis suggests Year 2 (six and seven year olds) still have significantly lower achievement in both reading and maths than would be expected in normal times, and that the disadvantage gap remains wider than expected.

The study used data from reading and maths assessments taken by more than 10,000 Key Stage 1 pupils (five – seven year olds) from 156 representative schools in the spring term of 2021. Their attainment was compared with that of a representative sample of Year 1 and 2 (five - seven year olds) children in spring 2019.

The first set of findings from this study, based on assessments taken by Year 2 (six and seven year olds) pupils in autumn 2020, was published in January 2021. Today’s study looks at pupils’ attainment after the second period of partial school closures in 2021. NFER will be conducting further analysis of any changes over the course of the academic year – particularly how individual children have fared – but these interim findings suggest that some children (especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds) have fallen further behind since the autumn term.

Year 1 (five and six year olds) pupils made on average three months’ less progress for both reading and mathematics compared with the cohort of spring 2019. Year 2 (six and seven year olds) pupils made three months’ less progress for reading in spring 2021, and around two months’ less progress for mathematics.

The report also shows there is a substantial attainment gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils. In Year 1 (five and six year olds), there is a staggering gap of around seven months for both reading and mathematics.

In Year 2 (six and seven year olds), the findings indicate that the disadvantage gap is around seven months for reading and eight months for mathematics. The gap is wider in both subjects for this year group compared to 2019, when it was estimated to be six months’ progress.

Diagnostic information from the assessments that has been published alongside the report provides a more detailed breakdown of the curriculum areas. Pupils’ vocabulary appears to be a relative strength and their aural comprehension was the area least affected. Certain areas of the mathematics curriculum appear to be secure, such as measuring lengths and heights, addition and subtraction, and pupils generally performed very well when asked questions in a standard way, although they did find unconventional formats more challenging.

This analysis suggests that, broadly, the areas that children in both year groups found difficult were the same as those the 2019 cohort struggled with, such as making inferences from complex texts and fraction questions.

Full analysis of the 2020 cohort’s progress and attainment this academic year will be carried out prior to the publication of a final report expected in December.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation and of the Sutton Trust, said:

"Today's research gives us yet more evidence of the enormous impact school closures have had on young people, especially those from low income homes.

"The research indicates that what is needed is a well-financed, multi-year funding plan for all young people. This should be for their classroom learning and wider development.

“There should also be funding for the extra-curricular activities that young people have missed out on to boost their wellbeing and life skills, as well as funding for their mental health support."

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Whilst these findings are concerning, each new piece of research can help us to better understand the scale of the challenge facing our teachers.

“Important work is already being done in schools to ensure that children’s progress is brought back on track and their wellbeing is restored in the wake of the pandemic.

“However, schools need ongoing access to resources which will allow them to perform at their best, and to ensure that pupils surpass “recovery” to achieve the full extent of their potential.”

Dr Ben Styles, head of the National Foundation for Educational Research’s Education Trials Unit said:

“The last few months have been hugely difficult for teachers, school leaders, parents and pupils.

“We hope this study – both the attainment analysis and the diagnostics – offers valuable information to teachers as they continue to help pupils recover from missed learning and support their overall wellbeing.

“It reinforces the importance of a sustained and properly-funded focus on activities to enable children to recover the learning they have missed.”


  1. Testing was carried out by schools already using NFER’s tests. The spring 2021 distribution of standardised scores was weighted to represent schools in England by a school-level attainment measure and compared with the 2019 standardisation sample. Differences in mean standardised score points were converted into effect sizes and mapped onto months’ progress using EEF’s standard conversion table.
  2. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is an independent charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust, as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus, with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement.
  3. Established 75 years ago, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) is the leading independent provider of education research. Our unique position and approach delivers evidence-based insights designed to enable education policy makers and practitioners to take action to improve outcomes for children and young people. Our key topic areas are: accountability, assessment, classroom practice, education to employment, social mobility, school funding, school workforce and systems and structures. As a not-for profit organisation, we re-invest any surplus funds into self-funded researchand development to further contribute to the science and knowledge of education research.