Education Committee inquiry: Home schooling


Written evidence submission from CLOSER, the home of longitudinal research (UCL Social Research Institute)



Rob Davies, Head of the CLOSER COVID-19 Taskforce (UCL Social Research Institute)

Dr Neil Kaye, UCL Research Fellow, CLOSER (UCL Social Research Institute)

Professor Rebecca Hardy, Director of CLOSER and Professor of Epidemiology and Medical Statistics (UCL Social Research Institute)


Date: 6 November 2020









  1. Introduction


1.1 The UK’s longitudinal population studies adapted rapidly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic by developing and launching special questionnaires for their participants in order to help understand the health, social, economic and behavioural impacts of the pandemic at both a national and regional level and across all generations and ages.


1.2 These surveys are collecting a wide range of data from many thousands of people across the country, providing rich insights into the immediate impacts of COVID-19 on people’s lives. Questions are asked to help understand the changes in response to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown in relation to physical and mental health, family and relationships, finance and employment, education and home schooling.


1.3 A unique aspect of longitudinal population studies and key advantage compared to other studies is their ability to study change within individuals as a result of the pandemic. This is because they also have pre-pandemic measures of health and behaviours on the same people, with many having followed them throughout their lives. These studies will continue to follow up their participants for many years to come, making it possible to not only track short-term impacts of the pandemic, but also the long-term change and impacts - over years and decades - on the lives of different generations.


1.4 This evidence submission draws on survey data and subsequent research on home schooling during the early stages of lockdown (from late April onwards) from six, nationally representative longitudinal population studies: the Millennium Cohort Study; Next Steps; 1970 British Cohort Study; 1958 National Child Development Study; 1946 National Survey of Health and Development; and Understanding Society: the UK Household Longitudinal Study.



  1. Evidence from longitudinal population studies: home schooling


2.1 The specific questions on home schooling in the longitudinal population studies COVID-19 surveys cover the following themes:



2.2 Initial data and research on home schooling during the pandemic and the impacts on children and their parents indicate that existing inequalities are increasing - children from low income and single-parent families and those who receive free school meals have been most negatively affected when compared to their peers. [1][3] Areas of particular concern are access to equipment and free school meals. Furthermore, mothers appear to be taking on more of the burden of home schooling than fathers. Specific findings are highlighted below.


2.3 Data from the longitudinal population studies COVID-19 surveys found that 12% of primary school, 28% of secondary school and 23% of post-16 students spent four or more hours on schoolwork every day. Most students across all ages received offline work from their school that did not involve real-time interactions with teachers. Only a third of students had one or more online live lessons a day. [2]


2.4 Research examined the time pupils spent on learning at home and explored differences across parental socioeconomic characteristics and ethnicity. This found that children who received free school meals, those from single-parent families, and those with Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds spent the lowest number of hours on schoolwork at home during the COVID-19 lockdown. Children with Black-Caribbean or Black-African heritage spent the most average hours on schoolwork across all ethnic groups and education stages. [3]


2.5 Further research focussing on home schooling and remote learning using the same data suggests that during the period of school closures engagement with remote learning was, on average, poorest amongst those from lower income families. [4]


2.6 The average time spent daily by parents on home schooling across all educational levels was 2.2 hours. Mothers spent more time than fathers doing home schooling on a typical weekday (on average, 1.5 hours more). Parents spent considerably longer actively helping younger students: parents with a child of primary school age in the household typically spent nearly 2 hours more on home schooling than those whose children were of secondary school age. [5]


2.7 Mothers of pre-school children spent on average 6.2 hours daily on interactive activities with children, compared to an average of 3 hours among fathers. Mothers of primary school aged children also spent more time on interactive activities with their children compared to fathers. [5]


2.8      Research investigating access to free school meals among eligible school children in the UK during the COVID-19 lockdown found that a significant proportion entitled to free school meals did not have access to the scheme: in the month following the COVID-19 lockdown, 49% of eligible children did not receive any form of free school meals. [6]


2.9      The value of longitudinal research will be fully realised long into the future as the studies are able to track large sections of the population throughout their lives to examine and understand longer-term impacts. New research is already planned to explore the impacts of home schooling and more will develop as new data from longitudinal population studies is made available. A recent example is a new Nuffield Foundation-funded study which will use longitudinal data to provide insights into the likely consequences of any future school closures or reductions in capacity, including the possibility of longer-term effects on employment and family wellbeing for parents, especially mothers. [7]


2.10 CLOSER has developed the COVID-19 Longitudinal Research Hub to act as a one-stop resource for researchers, parliamentarians and policy makers, now and in the future. The COVID-19 Longitudinal Research Hub contains the new surveys, data releases, and the latest research and evidence in a searchable tracker from the UK’s longitudinal population studies, all in one place. [8]



  1. Recommendations


3.1 The closure of schools and move to remote learning has affected all children; however, it is clear that specific groups of children have been more negatively impacted targeted interventions and support are required to help address this imbalance. Areas of particular focus should include the provision of equipment, for example laptops, and an improved scheme for children eligible for free school meals to access food.


3.2 To decrease the negative impact of school closures on disadvantaged children, schools should also be prepared to provide distance teaching in the future, and increased levels of ‘catch-up’ funding should be made available – particularly to schools with a greater proportion of students from low-income families.


3.3 It is important to track how the pandemic continues to impact on children’s education and learning. This includes the impact of subsequent localised school closures due to outbreaks amongst students or staff, and the educational effects of changes in the learning environment due to social distancing and other protective measures in schools.


3.4 The value of longitudinal research will be fully realised long into the future as the studies are able to track large sections of the population throughout their lives to examine and understand longer-term impacts. The government, through UKRI, should prioritise funding for these studies to ensure policy decisions are informed on the best available evidence. Future research should focus on the consequences of home learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, looking for learning gaps in test results in the years to come.



4       CLOSER, the home of longitudinal research [9]


4.1 CLOSER, the home of longitudinal research, brings together world-leading longitudinal population studies to maximise their use, value and impact and improve our understanding of key social and biomedical challenges. CLOSER does this by:



4.2 The following studies are part of CLOSER:




5       References


[1] Learning inequalities during the Covid-19 pandemic: how families cope with home-schooling


[2] Understanding Society COVID-19 Briefing Note: Home Schooling

M Benzeval, M Borkowska, J Burton, TF Crossley, L Fumagalli, A Jäckle, B Rabe and B Read (2020) Understanding Society COVID-19 Survey April Briefing Note: Home schooling, Understanding Society Working Paper No 12/2020, ISER, University of Essex.


[3] Inequalities in home learning and schools’ provision of distance teaching during school closure of COVID-19 lockdown in the UK


[4] Home learning during Covid-19: Findings from the Understanding Society Longitudinal Study


[5] Villadsen, A., Conti, G. and Fitzsimons, E. (2020) Parental involvement in home schooling and developmental play during lockdown - Initial findings from the COVID- 19 Survey in Five National Longitudinal Studies. London: UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies.–-initial-findings-from-COVID-19-survey.pdf


[6] Half of children entitled to free school meals do not have access to the scheme during the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK.


[7] Research project: COVID-19 and school availability: impact on parental labour supply and wellbeing


[8] COVID-19 Longitudinal Research Hub:


[9] CLOSER, the home of longitudinal research