The Ever-Growing Education ‘Gap’ During Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has been described by some as a great societal leveller; however, this could not be further from reality. Though we have all inevitably suffered unexpected challenges in the past year, it is clear that the most disadvantaged pupils have been hit the hardest.

The divisions that have been highlighted and enhanced throughout the pandemic are exemplified nowhere more than within the field of education. The government’s coronavirus response with regards to education has provoked many of its greatest controversies: the disastrous exam results algorithm; initially refusing to provide free school meals during the school holidays and sending children back to school for one day at the height of the pandemic.

Here, the government has proved, time and time again, that it does not have the wellbeing or safety of school pupils and teachers, at heart. These policies, along with existing inequalities, have drawn attention to the ever-growing education gap between the attainment that pupils can hope to achieve based on their socio-economic background.

From studying at home throughout the pandemic, I’m sure we can all relate to the mental and academic challenges that arise from a lack of in-person support. Imagine, however, if you had also lost your only access to the internet, a safe space to work and your main meal of the day.

It is due to these factors that a report by the Education Policy Institute in September revealed that the pandemic has caused the disadvantage gap in education to widen for the first time since 2007. This study particularly considers Primary aged children, which has led experts to be concerned about the impact at such a crucial developmental stage of their educational trajectory.

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) found that, following the first lockdown, pupils from the most deprived schools in the country were over four months behind on their education- around double that of the least deprived schools. (https://post.parliament.uk/covid-19-and-the-disadvantage-gap/)

Research from the Sutton Trust, further highlights the vast imbalance in the quality of teaching received: 60% of private schools had an online platform to facilitate online learning, compared to only 23% of the most deprived schools. This is heightened by the fact that a significant proportion of teachers from the country's most deprived schools reported that more than a third of students did not have access to adequate internet access or a device for learning at the onset of the pandemic.

Though many schools took it upon themselves to provide devices to those in need, the reality is that most struggling schools simply do not have the resources to provide such measures. (https://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/School-Shutdown-Covid-19.pdf)

Now, in February 2021, after almost a year of their schooling has been severely disturbed, this brings up concerns of the worrying long-term impact this will have on the existing education gap, and how Covid19 will hold back already disadvantaged members of our society.

Far from creating an education gap, however, the disparities that have been perpetuated during Covid-19 are a stark display of the immense class inequality that exists within our education system and society as a whole. That fact we live in a country where millions of families have been living without basic necessities of internet access, healthy food or are living in overcrowded housing paints a picture of the stark reality of poverty in the UK.

Though it shouldn’t take a global pandemic to highlight these issues, we cannot let our heightened social consciousness fade away as we return to ‘normal’. As we hope to enter into a post-covid world, where children will soon be returning to school for good, it is clear that we cannot bridge the education gap without tackling the root causes of the conditions that have allowed it to widen. Confronting childhood poverty head-on is the only way to truly provide justice and equality of opportunity for all.