Coverage of briefing

This briefing paper looks at the COVID-19 pandemic and schools. It largely focuses on England. It provides information on the beginning of the autumn 2021 term, and earlier periods.

It covers attendance rates, pupil coronavirus testing, operational issues for schools, and education recovery.

Secondary exams including GCSEs, A Levels and equivalents are covered in a separate briefing paper, Coronavirus: GCSEs, A Levels and equivalents in 2021.

This is a fast-moving issue and this briefing should be read as correct at the time of publication.

Timeline of recent events (England)

  • 5 January 2021: announcement that school sites would remain closed to most children following the Christmas and New Year holidays.
  • 8 March 2021: most pupils begin returning to face-to-face provision. Some secondary pupils had a phased return, to allow for asymptomatic screening using lateral flow devices (LFDs).
  • August 2021: pupils’ grades for GCSE, AS, A Level and equivalent qualifications, are issued to pupils, based on teacher assessment.
  • Early September 2021: schools reopen for autumn 2021 term; no further requirement to keep pupils in separate groupings, or ‘bubbles’, nor routinely send home groups of pupils when one tests positive for coronavirus.

Impact on education, development, and wellbeing

Early in the pandemic, survey evidence indicated wide disparities in young people’s home learning experiences during the initial spring 2020 school attendance restrictions. There have been particular concerns about the impacts on disadvantaged children. Further evidence is now starting to emerge on the extent of the impact of the initial and subsequent attendance restrictions. The Government is funding tutoring and other schemes to address the impacts of missing face-to-face provision.

For the September 2021 term, there are concerns that, with the widespread nature of the Delta variant, there may be a substantial number of cases among unvaccinated school-age children and young people.

School funding and additional costs relating to the pandemic

The Department for Education (DfE) made some additional funding available for free school meals, exceptional cleaning costs, catch-up funding and tutoring, laptops and digital devices, teacher training, and supply staff costs.

However, concerns remain that some schools are struggling to meet pandemic-related costs, and about whether total education recovery funding announced to date is sufficient. There are also debates about how recovery funding should be spent.

In terms of general funding, a report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) in September 2021 and focusing on England concluded that additional core funding announced by the Government would still mean that school spending was 1 to 2 per cent lower (in real terms) per pupil in 2022-23, than in 2009-10.


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