England Pupils Face Worst Exam Results in Decades Due to Covid School Closures

The COVID-19 pandemic's impact on education in England is predicted to cause a significant decline in GCSE exam results and widen socio-economic inequalities, highlighting the urgent need for targeted interventions to mitigate learning losses.

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Waqas Arain
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England Pupils Face Worst Exam Results in Decades Due to Covid School Closures

England Pupils Face Worst Exam Results in Decades Due to Covid School Closures

Pupils in England are expected to experience the most significant decreases in GCSE exam results for decades due to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures. A major new study predicts that less than 40% of pupils in England in 2030 will achieve a grade 5 or above in English and Mathematics GCSEs, lower than the 45.3% who achieved this benchmark in 2022/23.

The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and conducted by LSE, the University of Exeter, and the University of Strathclyde, found that the pandemic has impeded children's socio-emotional and cognitive skills, which are both crucial for GCSE performance. The analysis also predicts a significant widening of socio-economic inequalities in GCSE results and a decline in the UK's relative income mobility levels by 12-15% for generations of pupils leaving school over the next decade.

Why this matters: The COVID-19 pandemic's long-term effects on education could have grave ramifications for a generation of children in England. The predicted decline in exam results and widening socio-economic gap highlight the urgent need for targeted interventions and support to mitigate the learning losses and ensure equal opportunities for all students.

The report proposes several low-cost policies to enhance children's outcomes, including a greater emphasis on socio-emotional skills, extracurricular support, and wellbeing, in contrast to England's pandemic response which was heavily focused on academic catch-up. Researchers estimate that the pandemic school closures will cost the economy over £30 billion due to lower lifetime earnings from falling GCSE achievement.

"The damaging legacy of school closures from Covid will be felt by generations of students well into the next decade," warned the researchers, adding that without equalizing policies, the impact will threaten to further broaden the socio-economic divide.

The study emphasizes the importance of socio-emotional skills, which are as important as cognitive skills for GCSE results, and highlights a gender divide in the importance of different skills. The report recommends reforms such as restructuring the school calendar by shortening the summer break and lengthening the October half-term, as well as introducing a national program of university undergraduate tutors to provide academic and mentoring support to pupils.

Key Takeaways

  • GCSE exam results in England expected to decline significantly due to COVID-19 impact.
  • Less than 40% of pupils to achieve grade 5+ in English and Maths GCSEs by 2030.
  • Pandemic impeded children's socio-emotional and cognitive skills, widening socio-economic gaps.
  • Proposed policies include focus on socio-emotional skills, extracurricular support, and wellbeing.
  • Pandemic school closures estimated to cost the economy over £30 billion in lower earnings.