Only six in ten pupils are getting a full education despite schools going back, a London School of Economics study has found as researchers warn of “permanent scarring” to the Covid generation.
During late September and early October, just 59 per cent of pupils benefitted from “full schooling”, a new report by the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance has found.
This compared to around four in ten (38 per cent) who had full schooling - defined as spending at least five hours on work or receiving at least four lessons per day - during lockdown.
The research comes amid growing concern that despite schools being open in theory, large swathes of children are being sent home to self-isolate with variable quality of remote education in place for them.
Keir Starmer, the Labour leader has called for a so-called "circuit breaker" during the half-term break, backed by the UK's biggest union which says secondary school pupils should be kept at home for an extra week.
The National Education Union has also urged the Government to allow secondaries to operate a rota model, where students are taught remotely part of the time.
Meanwhile the 17 day "fire break" Wales will see secondary school pupils taught online the week after half-term, with only those in Year 7 and 8 allowed back to the classroom and those taking exams.
“The point is that these learning losses have been sustained over a much longer period than we first thought,” said Prof Lee Eliot Major, a co-author of the report and expert in social mobility at Exeter University.
“This suggests we need to keep schools open, redouble our efforts to make sure they remain open and they get all the support they can get.”
Earlier this week the Children's Commissioner warned that overcautious teachers are sending entire year groups of pupils home unnecessarily as she said that education must not be "sacrificed on the altar of Covid".
Just one pupil testing positive for coronavirus can send an entire school into "chaos" with a whole year group sent home for a fortnight, Anne Longfield said.
She wrote to MPs to highlight the huge discrepancies in the interpretation of guidance on how to handle cases of Covid-19 at school, and the detrimental effect this is having on children's education.
The LSE researchers analysed the results of a survey which asked 10,000 people about their experience of education since schools reopened for the new academic year, as well as an earlier survey of around 100,000 people carried out in April.
The report found that during the national lockdown, nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of private school pupils had full school days compared to just 39 per cent of state school pupils.
A quarter of pupils had no schooling or tutoring at all during lockdown, researchers said, equating to around 2.5 million children across the UK.
“The biggest fear is that pupils suffer permanent ‘educational scarring’. This can occur at key transition points, when students fail to pass a particular threshold that has life consequences,” the report said.
“If disadvantaged students fall further behind, they will miss out on a sixth form place to study A-levels or a university place to go onto higher education. Finally, disadvantaged students may fall further behind during university.”
Prof Major said that online provision for pupils who have been sent home to self-isolate has been “patchy at best”, adding that there are some schools that are doing well with this but others who have struggled.
“The worry of course will be that there will be further local disruption over the coming months. There are privileged families who have been insulated from all of this. But what is interesting about this pandemic is that it has hit most children from most homes, except those in the highest income groups.”
Robert Halfon MP, chair of the education select committee, said the study exposes “how far Covid has contributed to an epidemic of educational poverty”.
He added: “It is vital that our children get learning again, otherwise we are damaging the life chances of many children, potentially for decades to come.
“All investment and energy from the Government should be getting the catch-up fund to work, to refocus the pupil premium and do everything possible to increase attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their better off peers.”
The research, which will be discussed tonight on BBC Panorama's Has Covid Stolen My Future? , also examines the labour market and finds that young people aged 16-25 were over twice as likely as older employees to have lost their job, and were also “significantly” more likely to have had their wages cut.
This week the NEU asked the Education Secretary for an "urgent" discussion about secondaries in "high" and "very high" risk areas paring back classroom time for pupils.
They said students are increasingly being sent home to isolate in large numbers, leading to a pattern of "erratic" partial school closures.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Over 99% of schools have been open every week since term began, with the latest data showing over 7.3 million pupils attending to learn from brilliant teachers and spend time with friends.
"Our £1 billion Covid catch up package will tackle the impact of lost teaching time as a result of the pandemic, including a £650 million catch up premium to help schools support all pupils and the £350 million National Tutoring Programme for disadvantaged students.”
Panorama's Has Covid Stolen My Future? will air tonight at 7.35pm on BBC One