Media Release

School closures to disproportionately affect the learning and development of disadvantaged students

For many, the closure of schools could mean the end of development, the end of learning and a very difficult home situation.

Yesterday, March 18th, in response to COVID-19, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that schools in England would close from Friday to all children except those of “key workers” and vulnerable children.

Yet, the school closure is predicted to affect children from different backgrounds differently, says the SMF think tank.

Summer learning loss occurs during the six weeks holidays and the closure of schools for the foreseeable future could impact the learning and development of disadvantaged students.

Analysis of survey by TeacherTapp shows there is a clear difference in the ability of schools to set work remotely by type of school and by affluence. For instance, 89% of private schools answered yes to the question: “Think of the class you taught last today. Imagine school was suddenly closed for a time. Could you set to work remotely for that class to do?”[i], compared to 62% of state schools.

This strongly suggests that state schools are underprepared for teaching remotely. Just over half (53%) of schools in deprived areas (high FSM) could set work remotely if the school suddenly closed.

Not only will school closures affect learning, but it also will have an impact on the meals children receive. The government has announced it “will give schools the flexibility to provide meals or vouchers to children who are eligible for free school meals” – but the details on this are thin.[ii]

The SMF advises the Government to think about:

  1. How to help schools and parents cope with the move to remote working for children. How can the government monitor the quality of teaching occurring at home? Is there a way to support parents with teaching? How should the government make sure everyone can access their materials and that all students, but particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, do not go backwards.
  2. Looking to the future – it is not acceptable that schools in the poorest areas do not have systems in place to deal with remote / virtual learning. We must work to future proof the education system for events on this magnitude in future.
  3. Whilst providing vouchers to FSM students is positive, at present there is no detail on their value. A bigger question is what happens to children not eligible for FSM who will go hungry or for children who experience changes to their FSM status.

Chief Economist, Kathryn Petrie says:

 “School closures might be a necessity for public health but in these unprecedent times we must think about how these closures will impact students from different backgrounds.”

“Evidence shows that disadvantaged students tend to experience higher amount of learning loss and it is a real concern that gaps in educational attainment will widen over this period. We must do more to support schools, parents and children during this time.”


Notes to editors:

Full blog by Chief Economist, Kathryn Petrie available at:


Media contacts:

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact the SMF on:

Kathryn Petrie, Chief Economist: and 07536 106206




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