account arrow-down-linearrow-down-small arrow-downarrow-download arrow-left-small arrow-leftarrow-link arrow-rightarrow-upawarded books calendar close-modal closedate delete document education emailevent facebookhamburger impact instagramjustice linkedin location-outline location opinion page phonepinterestplay plusplyr-pause plyr-play post preview project publication reports search-bigsearch share star-full star-open startime twitterwelfare youtube zoom-in zoom-out

The most disadvantaged pupils are less likely to be engaged in remote learning

There is a significant difference in pupils’ level of engagement with remote learning. New Nuffield-funded research from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) raises particular concern about the impact of school closures on the learning of children from schools serving the most deprived pupils.

The research is based on findings from a representative survey of 1,233 school leaders and 1,821 teachers (total: 3,054) in England. The findings were collected between 7-17 May, when schools were only open to vulnerable pupils and children of keyworkers. Key findings include:

Pupil engagement is lower in schools with the highest levels of deprivation:

  • Schools with the highest levels of pupil deprivation (those in the highest free school meal quintile) report 13 percentage point lower levels of pupil engagement compared to schools in the middle quintile.
  • Teachers in the most deprived schools report 30% of pupils returning their last piece of work, compared to 49% of pupils in the least deprived schools.
  • Teachers report that the following proportions of pupils are less engaged in remote learning than their classmates:
    • Pupils with limited access to IT and/or study space (81%)
    • Vulnerable pupils (62%)
    • Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (58%)
    • Pupils eligible for Pupil Premium funding (52%)
    • Young carers (48%).

Teachers report that, on average, just over half (55%) of their pupils’ parents are engaged with their children’s home learning:

  • Teachers from the most deprived schools report that parental engagement is significantly lower than teachers in the least deprived schools (41% compared to 62%).
  • Parental engagement is significantly lower among the parents of secondary compared to primary pupils (48% compared to 56%). This is likely to be a reflection of these parents believing that their secondary age pupils are more able to manage their own learning.

When the survey was conducted in May, teachers reported being in regular contact with, on average, 60% of their pupils. However, on average, less than half of pupils (42%) returned their last piece of set work.

  • Whilst they are less likely to return work set, on average, primary school leaders say that 71% of pupils are getting involved in learning activities, while school leaders in secondary schools indicate that an average of 63% of pupils are getting involved in set work.
  • School leaders believe that around one third of pupils (29-37%) are not engaging with set work at all.
  • The majority of teachers (90%) believe that their pupils are doing less work than they would usually expect at this time of year.

Limited pupil access to IT at home is a significant challenge, particularly for schools with the highest levels of deprivation:

  • School leaders report that 23% of their school’s pupils have limited access to IT at home. This is defined as one or more of the following issues: poor broadband access; little or no IT equipment in the home; having to share equipment with other family members. Teachers report this figure to be 27%.
  • 93% of school leaders from the most deprived schools have some pupils with limited access to IT at home compared with 73% of school leaders from the least deprived schools.

Schools delivering learning content to pupils through online conversations (as part of a range of measures), have higher general pupil engagement levels (five percentage points) and an increased probability of having highly engaged disadvantaged pupils (eight percentage points).

  • Schools using a virtual learning environment (VLE) to inform pupils about learning activities have an eight percentage points higher general pupil engagement level than schools not using VLEs.
  • Schools using a VLE also have a 13 percentage points increase in the probability of having highly engaged disadvantaged pupils.
  • Schools using telephone or video calls to inform pupils about learning activities have three percentage point higher levels of pupil engagement, relative to schools that do not use these methods.
  • Teachers who set activities that involve consolidating previous learning or revising have a five percentage point higher level of engagement. These types of learning activity also increase the likelihood of disadvantaged pupils being highly engaged by six percentage points.

Despite high levels of leadership guidance and teachers’ readiness to provide remote learning support, there is currently a substantial deficit in curriculum coverage across schools:

  • The majority of teachers (between 66% and 75%) rate their ability to offer remote learning support to pupils as ‘good or very good’ for most of the aspects included in the survey. Yet 80% of teachers report that all or certain areas of the curriculum are currently getting less attention than usual, across many subject areas, including all core curriculum subjects.
  • Teachers aged between 20 and 29 are likely to have lower pupil engagement and a lower likelihood of their disadvantaged pupils being highly engaged.
  • Teachers who feel well-supported by their school and teachers who teach Key Stage 5 are likely to have higher levels of pupil engagement, while teachers with a good quality working environment at home have a seven percentage point increase in the likelihood of their disadvantaged pupils being highly engaged.

Carole Willis, Chief Executive at National Foundation for Educational Research, said:

“There are considerable differences in the levels of pupil engagement in remote learning, particularly amongst the most disadvantaged pupils. This supports a growing evidence base highlighting the risk of the attainment gap widening as a result of this pandemic. There is a pressing need for a comprehensive and long-term plan to address this issue.

“The findings suggest there is a strong case for extending the government’s scheme to fund digital provision to all year groups, alongside all schools being supported to put in place effective virtual learning environments. There is also reinforcement of the crucial role of leaders in this situation, with a positive association between teachers feeling well-supported by their school leaders and pupil engagement. This is particularly significant for young teachers, with less experience.”

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at Nuffield Foundation, added:

“The shift to remote learning during lockdown has made the implications of children and young people’s unequal access to IT equipment and connectivity even more stark. It has also highlighted sharp disparities in the extent to which students are engaging with their school work away from classrooms.

“The government needs to ensure that all students have access to appropriate technology in their homes, and that teachers are fully supported in the coming months in addressing the disadvantage gap that is inevitably continuing to widen during the extended lockdown period.”

Later this week, NFER will publish the third report in this series exploring schools’ provision for vulnerable children and children of keyworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More about this project


Explore our projects

Young-boy-uses-tablet-with-mother-for-maths-learning-Can-maths-apps-add-value-to-learning-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Can maths apps add value to learning?

View project
Girl with mum reading School availability parental labour supply and family wellbeing
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

COVID-19 and school availability: impact on parental labour supply and well-being

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Evaluating the short- and medium-term impacts of Sure Start

View project
Male-teacher-teaches-teenagers-in-secondary-school-lesson-Autonomous-schools-and-the-teacher-labour-market-Evidence-from-academies-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Autonomous schools and the teacher labour market: Evidence from academies

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Ethical principles underpinning co-production with young people

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2020

COVID-19 mitigation measures: education provision and access to special schools

View project
Senior-woman-enjoys-video-call-on-smartphone-Social-cohesion-in-context-of-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Social cohesion in the context of COVID-19

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
Toddler-gleefully-eats-baked-beans-How-COVID-19-is-affecting-food-security-proj
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting food security

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
Girl with mum reading School availability parental labour supply and family wellbeing
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

COVID-19 and school availability: impact on parental labour supply and well-being

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Evaluating the short- and medium-term impacts of Sure Start

View project
Teacher in classroom with laughing primary school students, reading a story to them.
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Gene-environment interplay in early life cognitive development

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Ethical principles underpinning co-production with young people

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2020

COVID-19 mitigation measures: education provision and access to special schools

View project
Male-teacher-teaches-teenagers-in-secondary-school-lesson-Autonomous-schools-and-the-teacher-labour-market-Evidence-from-academies-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Autonomous schools and the teacher labour market: Evidence from academies

View project
Young-boy-uses-tablet-with-mother-for-maths-learning-Can-maths-apps-add-value-to-learning-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Can maths apps add value to learning?

View project
In progress

Justice | 2020 - 2022

Youth custody: Educational influences and labour market consequences

View project
Toddler-gleefully-eats-baked-beans-How-COVID-19-is-affecting-food-security-proj
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting food security

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
Early years worker sitting at table with children
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

The ‘common elements’ approach: improving outcomes in early childhood education

View project
Senior-woman-enjoys-video-call-on-smartphone-Social-cohesion-in-context-of-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Social cohesion in the context of COVID-19

View project
Girl with mum reading School availability parental labour supply and family wellbeing
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

COVID-19 and school availability: impact on parental labour supply and well-being

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Evaluating the short- and medium-term impacts of Sure Start

View project
Teacher in classroom with laughing primary school students, reading a story to them.
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Gene-environment interplay in early life cognitive development

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Ethical principles underpinning co-production with young people

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2020

COVID-19 mitigation measures: education provision and access to special schools

View project
Male-teacher-teaches-teenagers-in-secondary-school-lesson-Autonomous-schools-and-the-teacher-labour-market-Evidence-from-academies-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Autonomous schools and the teacher labour market: Evidence from academies

View project
Young-boy-uses-tablet-with-mother-for-maths-learning-Can-maths-apps-add-value-to-learning-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Can maths apps add value to learning?

View project
In progress

Justice | 2020 - 2022

Youth custody: Educational influences and labour market consequences

View project
Toddler-gleefully-eats-baked-beans-How-COVID-19-is-affecting-food-security-proj
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting food security

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
Early years worker sitting at table with children
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

The ‘common elements’ approach: improving outcomes in early childhood education

View project
Senior-woman-enjoys-video-call-on-smartphone-Social-cohesion-in-context-of-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Social cohesion in the context of COVID-19

View project
Reported

Education | 2014 - 2015

The Nuffield Languages Inquiry and Nuffield Languages Programme

View project
Reported

Education | 2003 - 2003

Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education and Training

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2018

Growing up digital

View project
Houses of Parliament and River Thames. The Assessment Reform Group aimed to ensure government policy was informed by research
Reported

Education | 1996 - 2010

The Assessment Reform Group

View project
Reported

Education | 2013 - 2019

Pupils’ understanding of evolution and inheritance

View project
Reported

Education | 2013 - 2016

When to teach what? Sensitive learning periods and adolescence

View project
Reported

Education | Welfare | 2013 - 2019

Neglected tropical diseases

View project
Reported

Education | 2016 - 2017

School choice and equality of opportunity

View project
Reported

Education | Welfare | 2015 - 2016

Out-of-school-time programmes and GCSE performance

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2020

Teaching reading: an integrated programme for deaf & hearing children

View project
Reported

Education | 2013 - 2013

The effect of school inputs on educational achievements

View project
Reported

Education | 2014 - 2017

Special Educational Needs in Secondary Education (SENSE)

View project
Search projects

We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.

Profile