Impact of Covid-19 on School Starters

This project aims to understand the experiences of children attending reception in the academic year 2020/2021; and if, and how, they are different from the experiences of previous cohorts. It also aims to give an indication of the factors influencing socio-emotional wellbeing and educational outcomes, including experience of the pandemic, home learning activities, family demographics and child socio-emotional wellbeing. Finally, the project will explore how teaching practices and schools logistics during the Reception year might have changed as a response to the pandemic, as this could give an indication of which approaches are associated with recovery.

Why are we funding it?

It is well established that high-quality early years provision plays an important role in a child’s educational and socioemotional development, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds where it can reduce educational inequalities. The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the closure of Early Years settings to most children in Spring 2020, with data highlighting only 7% of children age 2-4 attending formal early years provision during lockdown. When lockdown eased in June almost half of parents reported their child was unlikely to return to provision that month, with occupancy surveys reporting similar findings. Children starting school following the pandemic are doing so after a period of instability and atypical environmental and social influences. 

How are we evaluating it?

The research team planned to collect data on reception pupils’ language, numeracy and socio-emotional development in November 2020-January 2021 and again in June 2021. School and parent surveys undertaken at the same time points would help interpret the findings, in terms of experiences during lockdown, the home learning environment and school choices during the academic year. Additional analysis using the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile was also planned to compare the outcomes of this year’s cohort of Reception pupils with that of previous years, including comparing the outcomes of pupils eligible for free school meals to estimate possible changes in the size of the disadvantage gap. 

Unfortunately, school closures in Spring term 2021 have impacted the initial collection of pupil data and led to the cancellation of the national submission of Early Years Foundation Stage Profile data. 

In June 2021 the research team still aims to collect data on reception pupil's language, numeracy and socio-emotional development and survey schools and parents. Additional surveys have been planned for March 2021 to understand schools and parents experiences during the latest lockdown. The team also aim to collect data from schools who are completing their own end of year assessments using the Early Learning Goals and are willing share this data in an anonymised format. This could enable us to understand the development of this cohort of children compared to previous Reception cohorts. 

When will the evaluation report be due?

An interim thematic briefing was published in April 2021. The final report will be published in Spring 2022.