Coverage of this briefing

This briefing paper looks at the COVID-19 pandemic and schools. It largely focuses on England. It has been updated for the start of the new January 2022 school term.

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

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

Timeline of recent events (England)

  • 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 groupa, or ‘bubbles’, nor to routinely send home groups of pupils when one tests positive for coronavirus.
  • January 2022: Schools return from the Christmas and New Year break; face coverings temporarily reintroduced for secondary-age pupils in classrooms and when moving around the school, unless exempt.

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 academic, mental and physical health impacts 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. It has also provided some additional money to support pupils’ and teachers’ mental health and wellbeing.

School funding and additional costs relating to the pandemic

The Department for Education (DfE) has 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 about whether total education recovery funding announced to date is sufficient. There are also debates about how recovery funding should be spent.

At the autumn Budget/ Spending Review (SR) 2021, the Government announced an additional £1.8bn over the SR period, for education recovery. Much of this (£1bn) is for the Recovery Premium for the next two academic years. This is formulaic funding paid on a per-head basis to schools in England. In 2021-22, this can be spent on a range of support, including support to “deal with non-academic barriers to success in school, such as attendance, behaviour and social and emotional support”.

Whilst the additional funding was welcomed, some remain concerned that it is insufficient, with the Education Policy Institute saying that the total amount allocated is “still some way off the £13.5bn that our research has shown is needed to reverse the damage done to children’s education”. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) also noted that the additional circa £4.9 billion in total for England fell “a long way short” of the £15bn reportedly recommended by the then-Education Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins.


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