LONDON 

Students in England and Wales returned to school for the first time in months on Tuesday as schools reopened amid the coronavirus pandemic, but a new study has raised concerns about widening inequality in education.

A survey released on Tuesday found that most students in England will be three months behind in their studies when they return to school.

It was carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NEFR).

The study polled interviewed almost 3,000 teachers and school leaders, and found that 98% of them believed their students had not made much progress in their learning; 21% of teachers from over 2,000 state schools also said that boys had fallen behind more than girls.

On average, teachers estimated their students were three months behind in their schooling, with the number rising in the poorest areas to four or more months.

Teachers said 44% of students will need intensive catch-up support, with the number rising to 57% in deprived schools.

Angela Donkin, the NFER’s chief social scientist, said: “There remains a range of barriers for teachers and schools, which means catch-up should be seen as part of the ongoing process of learning recovery, for most pupils, rather than as a quick-turnaround solution.

“It is clear that additional support needs to be targeted at disadvantaged pupils and schools from areas of high deprivation – something that is encouragingly happening through schemes such as the national tutoring programme – although there are questions about whether the scale will be sufficient to meet the high demand for those requiring intensive support.”

Schools minister Nick Gibb said that schools could be given additional funding to cover the cost of reopening during the pandemic.

Kate Green, Labour shadow education secretary, was quoted by the Guardian as saying: “When schools are closed, we see deep inequalities become more entrenched, and those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds lose out most.

“Young people’s futures cannot be held back by Conservative incompetence. This is a wake-up call for ministers. They must ensure that schools stay open, that parents and teachers are supported, and that pupils get all the help they need to catch up.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “While the attainment gap had narrowed since 2011, many pupils have had their education disrupted by coronavirus, and we cannot let these children lose out. That’s why throughout the pandemic we have invested in remote education, providing devices, routes and resources for the children who need them most, and why our £1bn Covid catch-up package will tackle the impact of lost teaching time – including targeted funding for the most disadvantaged students.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told his Cabinet today: “Of course we know there is still going to be more of this disease – this wretched COVID – still to come.

“Although we know there will be more outbreaks, we are absolutely confident that we are going to be able to deal with those outbreaks, and bit by bit this incredible country is getting back on its feet.”

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