The numbers tell us a lot about the state we’re in

Statistics are being rolled out that reveal the true extent of the impact of the past few months’ lockdown measures, and they make for uncomfortable reading.

The lockdown 

The past two weeks have proved stimulating for us statistical geeks, with a deluge of findings about the current state of  British education during the lockdown and the transition period for us to digest. 

It really is a soup of information, so we’ve sifted through it to find the salient points for you.

We’ll start with a survey from the Office for National Statistics, which stated that 19 million adults had reported being stressed during the lockdown – a significant increase from before.  A major reason given for this was homeschooling or being affected by it in other ways, such as balancing it with working from home. The ONS also found that the burden for homeschooling had fallen disproportionately on women. 

Continuing on the theme of homeschooling, University College London (UCL) found that since the lockdown started, 20 per cent of students have done less than one hour of work per week.  The daily average was 2.5 hours a day, with 17 per cent managing more than four hours per day. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) reported that teachers during this period had been in contact with 60 per cent of their students with only 42 per cent returning work.  Extrapolating some of these percentages into pupil numbers means that 4 million students were unaccounted for and almost 6 million did not return work. Schools providing online lessons fared better than those who did not.  A full 55 per cent of parents stated that they were engaged with their children’s learning.  

In addition, there was a significant difference in engagement from those students who did not have effective IT, were considered vulnerable, had special educational needs, were disabled, eligible for free school meals or were young carers. This research triangulated with that published by the Education Endowment Fund, which predicts that in England the gains in closing the gap between the disadvantaged children and their peers will regress to the position they occupied in 2011. This would mean the gap would stand at a median of 35 per cent. They also predicted from their review of the research that it was unlikely that when the students returned to normal schooling that, even with additional specific interventions, the gap would fully close again. One reason for this was that they expected attendance from this group of students to be poor. 

We found it helped us to make sense of these figures if we contrast them against reasonable benchmarks for normal schooling. In that scenario we would expect every student to attend at least 95 per cent of lessons, be contacted each day by a form or class teacher and be provided with at least 25 hours of teacher-led lessons per week. Parents would have to send their children to school and in most cases be expected to register that they had checked their child’s work at least once per week. If these conditions were not met, formal action could be initiated.  We feel the disparity between then and now, for whatever reason, speaks for itself and as more days tick by with social distancing being prescribed, the amount of catching up required of many students increases exponentially.  

Transition arrangements 

On the transition front, Sir Jon Coles, CEO of United Learning and Chair of Challenge Partners, got to the nub of the English accommodation issue. “There are 24,000 schools in England and 8.77 million students. In groups of 15 we need at least 585,000 spaces to teach them.  We’ll also run out of staff before we run out of space,” he said in The Times on June 12With safe class sizes set at a maximum of 15 students, most schools need to double their occupancy.  However, as most schools already run on over 80 per cent capacity, there will be significant shortfall in traditional teaching spaces.

From Sir Jon’s figures, we estimated that on average we needed 24 class spaces per school. From 14 in a one-stream elementary or primary school rising to 100 in a large secondary school. 

The point Sir Jon makes about staff is one previously shared by our correspondents, that with the new classification of vulnerability, deployable staff numbers have been reduced on average by 25 per cent. 

The Department of Education reported that about 234,000 attended early years setting in primary schools on June 11, which was 14 per cent of that normally expected. The number of schools open had risen from 52 per cent on June 1 to 67 per cent and attendance rates were around 20 to 25 per cent. 


Over the past 40 years, our first-hand experience of working in schools in England has demonstrated that there has been a continual improvement in the education we provide for our students. The rate of improvement might be disputed and it has not been as fast as some other countries, but significant progress has been made in overall student performance and as well as the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) reports in closing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. 

As the public education service in England has therefore played a major role in creating social mobility, it is difficult to accept even under these extreme circumstances such a backward step as we are potentially seeing at the moment. We know you are doing everything possible in these tragic circumstances to normalise the situation and its impact on you and the children in your care. Let us hope that for all of us the health conditions that have caused them can be rapidly eradicated and effective mitigating actions and a collective will to implement them can be found so that once again the next generation of our students do better than the last.

Take care and stay safe.