Report Overview

The closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges for everyone involved, from the students themselves, to their teachers and their parents. In the first of a series of in-depth briefings looking at the impact of the coronavirus crisis on social mobility, the Trust’s Carl Cullinane and Rebecca Montacute examine the views of both teachers and parents since school closed. This includes looking at the provision so far put in place by schools, the support and resources pupils have access to at home, and the impact this has had on the schoolwork pupils have completed during lockdown. The brief finishes by looking at possible mitigation strategies open to schools and the government, to try to reduce any impact on the already wide attainment gap between the richest and poorest pupils, and to protect the prospects for long-term social mobility.
These topics have since been explored in more detail through the COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities (COSMO) Study.

Pupils from independent schools are twice as likely to take part in online lessons every day.


Less than 50% of parents without higher education qualifications feel confident directing their child’s learning.


A 1/3 of children with parents earning over £100k a year have had over £100 spent on their learning.

Key Findings
  • A third of pupils are taking part in online lessons while schools are closed. However, at private schools, 51% of primary and 57% of secondary students have availed of online lessons every day, twice as likely as in state schools.
  • 60% of private schools and 37% of schools in the most affluent areas had an online platform to receive work, compared to 23% in the most deprived schools. 45% of students had communicated with their teachers in the last week. At independent schools, the figure is 62% for primaries and 81% for secondaries.
  • Despite the challenges faced, parents are overall positive about schools. 61% of children learning at home had parents who were satisfied, similar to 65% of those who are still in school as their parents are keyworkers.
  • The home learning environment is likely to play an even more crucial role as most learning is now done in the home. More than three quarters of parents with a postgraduate degree, and just over 60% of those with an undergraduate degree felt confident directing their child’s learning, compared to less than half of parents with A level or GCSE level qualifications.
  • In the most deprived schools, 15% of teachers report that more than a third of their students learning from home would not have adequate access to an electronic device for learning, compared to only 2% in the most affluent state schools. 12% of those in the most deprived schools also felt that more than a third of their students would not have adequate internet access.
  • Parents have also been spending money on their children’s learning since the lockdown. While most had spent less than £50 in the first week of the school shutdown, 14% had spent more than £100. 19% of children from middle class homes had £100 or more spent on them, compared to 8% in working class homes. For households earning over £100,000 per year, a third of children had more than £100 spent on their learning.
  • Two thirds of children who previously received private tuition reported to no longer have such a service, while a third continued to have tuition through online services. The effect of these changes has been to narrow the ‘tuition gap’, but this is likely to only be temporary.
  • These inequalities are reflected in the amount and quality of work being received by teachers. 24% say that fewer than 1 in 4 children in their class are returning work they have been set. 50% of teachers in private schools report they’re receiving more than three quarters of work back, compared with 27% in the most advantaged state schools, and just 8% in the least advantaged state schools.
  • Teachers in the most deprived schools are also more than twice as likely to say that work their students are sending in is of a much lower quality than normal (15% vs 6%).
  • Schools are already working to lessen the impact of school closures on inequality gaps among pupils. 34% of teachers reported contacting specific parents to offer advice about supervised learning. 21% reported their school is providing pupils with laptops or other devices, with significant differences between secondary (31%) and primary (11%) schools. Most concerningly, 28% of the most advantaged state schools had offered devices to pupils in need, compared to just 15% in the most deprived schools.
  • Teachers were asked for their preferred strategies to prevent some pupils from falling behind during the period of shutdown. Over half of secondary teachers cited the provision of tech devices. Another popular option was providing less well-off families with stationery and curriculum resource packs, which could help to address the divide in digital access. Half of teachers also cited some form of staggered return to school, or summer ‘catch up classes’ for disadvantaged pupils.
  1. While schools are closed, the government should help ensure all children have the resources necessary to access online learning. This includes a laptop or other suitable device, as well as a stable internet connection. These resources could be provided through a collaboration between the government and companies in the technology sector, and we would encourage any organisations able to do so to offer donations of these resources.
  2. Disadvantaged pupils should have access to additional one-to-one or small group tuition to reduce the impact of school closures. The poorest children are likely to be the most impacted by time away from the classroom. Additional tuition to reduce the impact on their learning could be provided both online while schools and closed, and face to face when restrictions have loosened.
  3. Training should be provided to teachers to enable them to deliver content to students online. Online teaching being provided to children is currently highly variable, with poorer students less likely to have access to some types of provision. Ensuring all pupils have access to high quality content is vital, so guidance and training for teachers could help to make provision more consistent between schools.
  4. Schools should consider running ‘catch up classes’ for children from poorer backgrounds over the summer or when schools return. Disadvantaged students will be most likely to have fallen behind during closures, with those entering Year 7 at particular risk. Schools should put in place additional support for these students when it is safe for schools to return, either before other students are back, or alongside the resumption of normal lessons.