Portsmouth education leaders' concerns after research reveals widening of lockdown learning gap

EDUCATION leaders have been expressing their concerns over the ‘inevitable’ learning gap between the wealthiest and poorest children which has widened during lockdown.

Wednesday, 19th August 2020, 1:05 pm
Updated Wednesday, 19th August 2020, 1:57 pm
Access to technology has been a big factor in the widening of the education gap.

Concerns have been raised following this week’s publication of a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies which looked at lockdown learning provision in families within the highest and lowest 20 per cent income levels in the country.

The study of 5,500 primary school children showed pupils from wealthier families spent 75 minutes a day more on educational activities compared to those from disadvantaged backgrounds.The findings also revealed wealthier children were 37 per cent more likely to have their own quiet space to study as well as access to a personal computer.

The survey found 42 per cent of poorer children received some sort of live online lesson or conference call compared to 58 per cent of richer children.

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Lyndhurst Junior School headteacher, Ali Beechurst (left), believes lockdown will have inevitably have widened the education gap between wealthy and disadvantaged children. Picture: Sarah Standing

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The findings came as no surprise to Lyndhurst Junior School headteacher, Ali Beechurst, who believed the disparity was down to circumstances rather than a lack of parental will.

Mrs Beechurst said: ‘I believe every one of our families has tried their best for their children but ultimately lockdown has absolutely widened the education gap. Disadvantaged pupils may have to share access to one computer which a parent may also have to use for work.

‘When it became apparent my children were going to be working from home I purchased additional tablets but this is simply not an option for lots of Portsmouth families.’

Mrs Beechurst also highlighted the significance of the type of employment.

‘A number of my friends were working from home and had flexible hours where they could support their children during the day and do their own work till late at night,’ she said.

‘In some jobs - particularly with shift work - this is not possible. The problem will have increased during the pandemic with many parents losing their jobs.’

It’s a sentiment shared by Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for education, Suzy Horton.

Cllr Horton said: ‘It makes complete sense that there will have been a widening of the divide. We know there has been a digital gap. I have volunteered for the Pompey Pirates Literacy Hub and we were told 60 per cent of those children who have been referred don’t have access to wifi - that’s a lot of pupils who may not have had access to any learning.

‘It’s also about time available to support your children and even the type of food they eat. Access to a quiet learning environment is very important. I know I would struggle to learn with four other people in the same room.’

In April the government announced free laptops for disadvantaged children but this was eventually watered down to being provided for disadvantaged children in Year 10.

Cllr Horton said: ‘In the end we received 850 laptops but it took a long time to get them out to pupils by the time they arrived and were configured and safeguarded.’

The government has also provided a £1bn Catch-up Fund to help the most disadvantaged children but some of this has been offset by the removal of the Year 7 Catch-up Premium.

Cllr Horton added: ‘We’ve ended up with a net gain which will be distributed in three stages across the year.’

While some experts have predicted it could take two years to close the lockdown learning gap, Mrs Beechurst is more optimistic.

She said: ‘This is not insurmountable but the first thing we need to do is assess the children when they return to see just where they are at.’

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