School closures could lead to a loss in earnings of £350 billion in the long run, a report has warned.
A “massive injection” of resources is needed to help pupils catch up after many children will have missed out on around half a year of in-person lessons, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) paper.
A variety of options – including allowing students to repeat a whole school year, lengthening the school day, or extending the academic year – should be “on the table” to increase learning time, it says.
Pupils who have lost six months of normal schooling could lose approximately £40,000 in income over their lifetime, the IFS observation suggests.
This equates to £350 billion in lost lifetime earnings across the 8.7 million school children in the UK.
The inescapable conclusion is that lost learning represents a gigantic long-term risk for future prosperity, the public finances, the future path of inequality and wellbeingLuke Sibieta, research fellow at the IFS
If society manages to mitigate three-quarters of the long-run effects of learning loss, the total would still be nearly £90 billion, the paper says.
So far, governments across the UK have allocated around £1.5 billion towards catch-up support for pupils but the report says the funding “is tiny” in comparison with the scale of the problem.
Half a year of day-to-day schools spending is more than £30 billion across the UK, according to the research.
The findings come after Boris Johnson announced that schools will receive £300 million of new money for catch-up tutoring as he confirmed that closures in England will be extended until at least March 8.
The Prime Minister told MPs last week that the Government would work with schools to develop “a long-term plan” to ensure pupils had the chance to make up their learning “over the course of this Parliament”.
In an open letter to parents, carers and guardians over the weekend, Mr Johnson said he was “in awe” of the way they had responded to the challenges of the pandemic and repeated the promise to provide support through catch-up programmes “so that nobody gets left behind”.
Last week, a study found that primary-age pupils’ performance in both reading and maths dropped significantly following the first round of school closures.
The IFS paper warns: “Without significant remedial action, lost learning will translate into reduced productivity, lower incomes, lower tax revenues, higher inequality and potentially expensive social ills.
“The lack of urgency or national debate on how to address this problem is deeply worrying.
“The necessary responses are likely to be complex, hard and expensive. But the risks of spending ‘too much’ time or resources on this issue are far smaller than the risks of spending too little and letting lower skills and wider inequalities take root for generations to come.”
It adds that it is possible that the effects of lost learning could be neutralised for those from well-off families and the long-run negative effects could be concentrated amongst those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In June, Mr Johnson said £350 million would be spent on the National Tutoring Programme over 2020-21 to help the most disadvantaged pupils.
But the report concludes that the positive results of the scheme are unlikely to be “anything like enough to deal with the seismic loss in learning time.”
Luke Sibieta, research fellow at the IFS, said: “The inescapable conclusion is that lost learning represents a gigantic long-term risk for future prosperity, the public finances, the future path of inequality and wellbeing.
“We therefore need a policy response that is appropriate to the scale of the problem. One useful benchmark is the £30 billion it normally costs for half a year of schooling in the UK.
“That doesn’t mean we need to spend that much. But it does strongly suggest that the £1.5 billion allocated across the UK so far doesn’t even start to match the scale of the challenge. A much larger policy response would allow us to consider radical and properly resourced ways to help pupils catch up.”
James Turner, chief executive of social mobility charity the Sutton Trust, said: “It is clear that these months of disruption to young people’s education will have repercussions for many years to come.
“The IFS is absolutely right to call for substantially more education funding to address the major issues coming out of this crisis. But it is absolutely crucial that this is targeted towards disadvantaged pupils who have been the worst hit by the pandemic.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The Government will need to put in place much more substantial catch-up funding to repair the damage to education caused by the pandemic, and all of this funding needs to go directly to schools and colleges.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We will invest a further £300 million in tutoring programmes, building on the existing £1bn Covid Catch Up Fund, but the Prime Minister was clear last week that extended schools closures have had a huge impact on pupils learning, which will take more than a year to make up.
“The Government will work with parents, teachers and schools to develop a long-term plan to make sure pupils have the chance to make up their learning over the course of this parliament.”