Extra tests under consideration so DfE can measure lost lockdown learning

Pupils may have to sit additional tests next year so researchers can measure the full extent of lockdown learning losses.

The Department for Education plans to research the impact covid-19 disruption had on the academic development of youngsters, including how pupils are progressing next year to recover lost learning.

Government plans are for all pupils to return into full-time education from September.

Any data collected from a sample of schools would definitively not be used for accountability purposes

Details on the research states there are two broad approaches to obtain such data: either by supplementing existing assessments schools will run next year with additional tests, or by running a specific research programme across a sample of schools using commercially-available assessments.

A document explaining the research contract adds: “It is important to note that the department’s interest in this data is purely for research purposes – any data collected from a sample of schools would definitively not be used for accountability purposes, but used exclusively for research and evaluation purposes to inform how best the department supports the sector to recover from disruption caused by Covid-19.”

A major report published last week by the Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics (DELVE) group, which advises government scientists, called for such a study on lockdown learning losses. But it recommended using an anonymous sample of schools, rather than running universal tests.

The report estimated 150 schools per secondary age group and 600 schools per primary age group would be required for the research to be effective.

The government has only said the study must be a “sufficiently large and representative sample of children to make meaningful inferences about the impact of Covid-19”.

There are already concerns over the burden that will be placed on schools reopening fully in September.

In a document inviting expressions of interest on the research, the department says the firm chosen to carry out the work must “demonstrate that they can work constructively with the sector, avoiding any unnecessary burdens on schools”.

While the government wants to understand the impact of lost education across as many cohorts as possible, they added this may be “less feasible or burdensome” so a “selection of year groups may be a favourable approach”.

The document adds “understanding the scale of missed learning, its drivers, and how it is recovered over the next academic year, is a key research priority for the department to help development of strategic policy for supporting the school system”.

The research would include identifying how lost progress varies across different subjects, skill sets (such as general aptitude or cognitive skill), as well as different pupil characteristics, regions and school-type.

The department wants to establish the main pupil- and school-level factors driving lost progress, to be expressed in a “common currency”, such as GCSE grades or months of progress.

According to the DfE, one way to do this would be using existing data from assessments that schools will be completing in September and across the year, and supplement this with additional tests throughout the next year to ensure a “balanced sample”.

The other is running a “bespoke research programme” among a representative sample of schools, using commercially available assessments, to understand progress across the year.

The department said commercially available baseline and progress tests are the “most appropriate source of additional data on this topic” and would enable comparisons to previous cohorts.

The document added: “Ideally, such data would be shared with the Department to link at pupil-level to the Department’s rich datasets including the national pupil database (NPD) for further in-depth analysis and breakdowns by various characteristics.”

The DfE said the first round of assessment data in sample schools would be obtainable in the autumn term, with a “strong preference for assessment in the first half-term”.

We are very clear that organisations will need to demonstrate that they can work constructively with the sector

The contract holder would also be expected to find “ways to benefit schools who take part in any research to encourage participation”.

The news comes as a study suggested the attainment gap between the top and lowest-performing pupils at primary has widened by up to 52 per cent.

Predictions being discussed by DfE officials also suggested the attainment gap could widen by up to 75 per cent because of the coronavirus lockdowns.

A spokesperson for the department said they ” recognise that schools will face additional pressures next year” and are “working with the sector to support them… This research aims to better understand how we can further support the sector as we move into the new school year.

“We are very clear that organisations will need to demonstrate that they can work constructively with the sector, to ensure unnecessary burdens are not placed on schools during the research and to find ways to benefit schools who take part.”

They added the only reason to collect non-anonymised data as part of the research would be to link test results to pupil-level data that the department already holds so they can produce more “in-depth, anonymised analysis” to inform support for the sector.

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