Early years development most affected by the pandemic

20 May 2022

Younger children’s development has been the most significantly affected by the pandemic and fewer are reaching the expected levels by the end of reception class, according to new research by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

Four and five-year-olds were less likely to meet the expected levels of development in 2021 than before the pandemic, with parents and schools reporting that children’s personal, social and emotional development, language, literacy and numeracy skills had been affected.

The research shows that although most parents and some schools felt there had been some “educational recovery” achieved by the end of the academic year, the proportion of children in the sample who gained a good level of development was 13% smaller than the 2019 cohort. This difference is equivalent to, on average, three more children in every classroom not reaching the expected levels by the end of reception year.

Separately, the EEF has also published a summary report reviewing a wide body of research on how the pandemic has affected learning for different groups of pupils. This reveals that the attainment gap between socially disadvantaged children and their classmates has grown across all age groups. In addition, teachers frequently reported concerns around the impact on pupil wellbeing.

The EEF highlights that schools still face considerable challenges in mitigating the effects of the pandemic and has produced a practical guide to support their planning and recovery efforts into the next academic year.

Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and of the Sutton Trust, said:

“It is deeply concerning to see the wide-ranging impacts that the pandemic has had on the development of the youngest children. The early years are vital for social mobility as this is where gaps in outcomes first begin to take hold.

“In light of today’s evidence, fair access to high quality early years provision is more important than ever. We must ensure we are recruiting, retaining and developing the best staff in the early years, especially in the poorest areas.

“If the Government are to meet their rightfully ambitious targets on numeracy and literacy by 2030, there needs to be a concerted focus on the early years. Making our school system fairer must start with giving every child the foundation to succeed.”

The full report is available here.