Exams

Covid reversing maths progress, national reference test shows

But the 2021 NRT suggests a 'surprising' lack of Covid impact on English performance

But the 2021 NRT suggests a 'surprising' lack of Covid impact on English performance

9 Dec 2021, 10:47

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Students’ progress in maths at GCSE level has been thrown into reverse by the pandemic, the latest national reference test data shows.

The findings come in spite of a jump in top results in last summer’s teacher-assessed grades, after exams were cancelled.

The national reference test was designed to monitor pupil performance over time and inform GCSE grading in English and maths.

Analysis of the 2021 tests, published today by Ofqual, found that three years of progress in maths since the test’s introduction in 2017 have been “reversed”.

Performance is now “closer to the level seen in 2017”, when GCSEs were reformed.

National Foundation for Educational Research analysts, commissioned by exam chiefs, said this was “not surprising, given the disruption to students’ education caused by the pandemic”.

However, the analysis found “no statistically significant difference” from previous years in English performance.

Authors Ming Wei Lee and Jamie Cockcroft called this “a little surprising” given Covid disruption and declines in maths.

Pupils spent less time on maths

Participants had reported spending more time on homework but “much less time on maths-related school activities outside class” than their 2020 counterparts.

The NRT included a student survey. Thirty-seven per cent of participants said they felt “behind” in maths, though 52 per cent were “where I expected to be” and 8 per cent even felt “ahead”.

The average student reported feeling around a month and a half “behind” where they would have expected to be.

Pupils were also less likely to say they found the subject “useful” and “important” than their 2020 counterparts, and less likely to report enjoying it.

The research is the latest in a string of studies highlighting the impact of lost learning during partial school closures. It comes in spite of 6 per cent of maths students securing top grade 9 results this year, up from 3.7 per cent in 2019.

Covid has ‘less impact’ on English

Researchers reported the “surprising” finding that English results were not different enough to be “statistically significant” to previous years.

“It may be that while the disruption meant that students had less practice in maths, they will have continued to use and respond to written and spoken English, in school in English as well as in other subjects, and outside school.

“These results suggest that the disruption caused by the pandemic might have had less impact on attainment in English than in maths.”

A slightly higher proportion of students in English, 59.3 per cent, reported being “where I expected to be” than in maths. But 30.7 per cent said they felt “behind”, with an average learning loss of 1.1 months perceived by pupils themselves. 8.6 per cent felt “ahead”.

Researchers said self-reported learning progress had “reasonable validity in predicting test performance”.

The English performance comes in spite of signs of lower motivation. “For English, the 2021 participants found the subject less useful and less important and saw less of a role of the subject in their future plan than their 2020 counterparts.”

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