Part 3: Under the white paper microscope

In this series of blogs our Publishing Director, Katie Blainey, puts the microscope on our latest white paper about the impact of school closures on spring 2021 attainment. Following on from last week's blog, this week the focus is on the following: children attending schools in more deprived areas, and schools with higher proportions of children receiving Free School Meals (FSM), tended to show greater declines in attainment than their peers. Schools with a high percentage of children eligible for FSM experienced decreases in scores approximately twice as severe as schools with a low percentage of FSM eligible children.  

Looking at the effect of school and local deprivation with SchoolDash 

Analysing the test results data at the end of the spring term with SchoolDash, an education data analytics company, meant we could further explore the results by school type, to look for particular trends in attainment at school level. Previous analyses have shown the effect school type and location can have on attainment, so we carried out this analysis knowing there would be differences. However, research is showing that the national lockdowns are affecting schools and pupils in different ways, so we hoped to provide evidence to help focus support to help those children most affected. 

Falls in attainment tended to be larger at high-FSM schools 

The first analysis focused on schools categorised by in-school deprivation level, which is using the percentage of children eligible for FSM. Looking in detail at the changes in average score from spring 2020 to spring 2021 in Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling (GPS) showed that the drops tended to be larger in schools with a higher number of children eligible for FSM. The drops were roughly double across all subjects when you compared the drops at the high-FSM schools with the low-FSM schools. This trend follows the findings we saw at the end of autumn term in which we could see the attainment gap getting bigger between the children eligible for pupil premium and those that aren’t.  

“One of this report’s prominent findings again reinforces the fact that the school closures have generally hit disadvantaged pupils the hardest: high-poverty schools saw falls in attainment about twice as large as low-poverty schools over this period.” 
Professor Simon Burgess, University of Bristol 

Children attending schools in more deprived areas showed greater declines 

The second way we analysed the attainment results by school was to look at the effects of poverty by local area by using the Deprivation Affecting Children Index* (IDACI). The schools were categorised by low, medium or high IDACI before we compared the average scores. Across all subjects we saw consistent patterns, which is that the drops were higher at the schools in poorer areas, defined by being high IDACI, than in schools in the more affluent areas (low IDACI).  

The most striking pattern was in maths, in which the high IDACI schools saw average drops between roughly 4 and 6 standardised score points in every year group. These were significantly higher than the average drops in all years of 3.3. Using data from large datasets such as this will help policy makers to focus support on the schools that need the most help.  

We are also aware that our analysis is entirely focused on one area of a school’s curriculum, so whilst maths, reading and GPS results may have fallen, year-on-year we are not able to further look at other elements of school life. As English adviser, Shareen, reflected on in our end of autumn analysis, it is the wider curriculum subjects that will enhance a child’s development alongside the development of core skills of English and maths.  

“The gaps between Pupil Premium and non-Pupil Premium is still an issue for children. Now, more than ever, pupils need opportunities for drama, speaking and listening and high quality teaching (including explicit instruction, retrieval practice, metacognition, feedback and other evidence-based strategies).” 
Shareen Wilkinson, Primary English adviser, educational author and teacher

Monitoring attainment and progress in groups of pupils  

Being able to easily see whether certain pupil groups have been affected more by the recent national lockdown will remain important. By using the free MIS-sync with MARK schools are able to automatically create contextual groups from the information already entered in to their MIS. This saves time and means the Group Reports in MARK can be used to monitor attainment and progress of pupil groups throughout the year. Bespoke Groups can also be set up to ensure tracking meets the needs of your school.  


*IDACI is part of the government’s indices of deprivation: 



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