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Pupils: Digital Technology

Question for Department for Education

UIN 168910, tabled on 15 March 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether his Department has made an assessment of the effect of digital exclusion on the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

Answered on

19 March 2021

The Department recognised that a lack of digital access posed a risk to the efficacy of remote education. In response, we invested over £400 million to support access to remote education as an injection of support to minimise digital exclusion. To date, over 1.2 million laptops and tablets have been delivered to schools, academy trusts, local authorities and further education (FE) colleges. We have also provided support to over 100,000 families to get online by providing uplifts in mobile data and 4G wireless routers.

Until 8 March, the Department expected all primary schools, secondary schools and FE colleges in England to provide remote education for the majority of their pupils and students, with the exception of vulnerable children and young people and the children of critical workers, who were able to attend school or FE colleges in person. Where vulnerable children and young people and children of critical workers did not attend school or FE colleges, we expected schools and FE colleges to provide them with remote education.

During this period, we understood that some pupils may face difficulty engaging in remote education and may be considered to be vulnerable children and young people and therefore would have been eligible to attend on-site provision. It was for the child’s school or local authority to make this decision. The decision would have been based on the needs of the child and their family, and a range of other factors, as set out in the guidance: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintaining-educational-provision/guidance-for-schools-colleges-and-local-authorities-on-maintaining-educational-provision#vulnerable-children-and-young-people.

As of 8 March, attendance is mandatory for all pupils of compulsory school age. However, schools affected by the remote education temporary continuity direction are still required to provide remote education for pupils where their attendance would be contrary to government guidance or legislation around COVID-19. This includes, for example, where such guidance means that a class, group, or small number of pupils need to self-isolate, or that clinically extremely vulnerable children need to shield.

Where pupils and students continue to experience barriers to digital remote education, we expect schools and FE colleges to work to overcome these barriers. This could include distributing school or FE college-owned laptops or supplementing digital provision with different forms of remote education such as printed resources or textbooks. This should be supplemented with other forms of communication to keep pupils and students on track or answer questions about work. These expectations were also in place across the period of restricted attendance on-site.

The Department’s research on lost learning has produced interim findings based on more than 400,000 Renaissance Learning reading and maths assessments taken in the first Autumn half-term of 2020-21.

The analysis uses historic test scores to predict what each pupil would have achieved on the test in Autumn 2020 had the COVID-19 disruption not occurred, based on that pupil’s test score in the previous years. The difference between the actual Autumn 2020 score and their predicted score is an estimate of the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak – presented here in terms of ‘months of progress’.

  • In reading Year 3-9 pupils are on average around 1.6-2 months behind where we would expect them to be in a ‘normal’ year.
  • In maths Year 3-7 pupils are on average around 3.2 months behind.
  • Results vary by geography – pupils in the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber are on average further behind than pupils in other regions.
  • Pupils in High-FSM schools are on average further behind those in Low-FSM schools.

The gap between disadvantaged pupils and others, measured using the disadvantage gap index, narrowed by 13% at Key Stage 2 and 9% at Key Stage 4 between 2011 and 2019.

Through our existing grant funding partnership with Nesta, the Department launched an evaluation programme in Autumn 2020, the EdTech R&D Programme, to understand the impact of technology use in education, particularly the impact and disparity between advantaged and disadvantaged students in attainment and outcomes during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The programme includes the evaluation of six remote education tools being used in schools and colleges in England. The first evaluation cycle is underway, with iterations throughout the life of the programme. A final report with key findings on using remote education tools effectively for all students, with particular recommendations for disadvantaged students, will also be shared with the wider sector by December 2021.

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