Bridging the attainment gap: will COVID accelerate the solution?

John Moore, director at Renaissance UK, explores the positive long-term impact COVID may have on the accelerating efforts to close the attainment gap

This last year has been one of the most challenging periods for the education sector post-WWII. Teachers and schools have faced an ever-changing list of obstacles; from delivering remote learning and predicting exam results to setting up COVID-friendly classrooms to limit the spread of the virus.

The impact of the pandemic and subsequent local and national lockdowns has been significant and one of the most concerning topics has been the widening attainment gap between pupils and their wealthier classmates across the UK. Research from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) suggests efforts to close the disadvantage gap have stalled, and disadvantaged pupils are 18.1 months of learning behind their peers by the time they finish their GCSEs. These concerns are echoed in our own research which showed almost two-thirds of school leaders (63%) believe the attainment gap has grown during lockdown.

Can COVID-19 accelerate the solution?

We are in no doubt that this will continue to be a difficult time for teachers and pupils, but there are positives we can and should draw as we move forward. There is evidence that an attainment gap occurs every summer (the so-called ‘summer slide’), with some pupils experiencing more learning loss during the school break than others, and often at transition from primary to secondary. The response to COVID-19 has shone a light on this issue more than ever before, offering an opportunity for a renewed plan to tackle and limit the gap.

Disadvantaged children still face challenges from a lack of devices, internet access or quiet working space at home, and more work needs to be done to alleviate these hurdles. Yet the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology in the classroom and the best practices that support it, meaning teachers are better placed to tackle any learning loss than ever before. We should remember, however, that the pandemic didn’t create the disadvantage gap, it already existed to some extent before COVID-19 – but we are all now better prepared to tackle this problem head-on with proven edtech solutions.

Edtech as an equaliser

We have seen tech act as a leveller this year, allowing teachers to provide a blended solution between classroom and home learning. Resources can be shared widely in both learning environments, where pupils have access to devices, and they can also be adapted for those with SEND so all pupils can benefit from a wide range of content. Teachers using edtech to track and monitor progress can immediately identify those who are falling behind and take action to prevent learning loss. This can mean disadvantaged students working at home receive additional resources and regular check-ins from class teachers.

The uptake in edtech has also benefited teachers, allowing them to become more efficient with the way they mark pupils’ work, monitor and track their classes’ progress through data. There are lots of different types of technology to support this. Collectively, this data helps teachers instantly identify learning gaps, such as those arising from COVID-19 closures and disruption.

Whilst the attainment gap remains one of the biggest challenges faced by the education sector to date, as an organisation, we at Renaissance continue to be inspired by how responsive and resilient teachers and schools have been during these trying times.

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