March 20, 2024

PRESS RELEASE (18/03/2024)

  • Outcomes for girls in reading and maths were affected more than outcomes for boys during the pandemic.
  • While girls are still ahead in primary reading, boys have narrowed the gap, and they’ve pulled further ahead in maths.
  • Regional differences also persist: the gap between the highest and lowest performing regions is wider than it was before the pandemic, with London pupils four months ahead of pupils in Yorkshire & Humber in primary reading.

New analysis produced by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and Renaissance has found that girls’ results have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, with boys narrowing the gender attainment gap.

The analysis, drawn from over six million of Renaissance’s Star Reading and Star Maths assessments taken by pupils across school years 3 to 9 from 2022/23, examines how pupils’ outcomes differ by their gender, whether they have special educational needs, whether they have English as an additional language, their ethnicity, and where in England they live.

This fourth and final report in a series produced by EPI and Renaissance builds on recent analysis from EPI and Renaissance measuring learning loss during the pandemic and outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. Our previous reports showed that learning loss as a result of the pandemic persists in maths and is the equivalent of two months of learning for primary pupils, and four months of learning for secondary-aged pupils. The pandemic was also associated with a widening of the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

This final report considers outcomes by gender, by special educational needs status (SEN), by English as an additional language (EAL), and by region.

On gender, the report finds that:

  • The pandemic appears to have had a bigger effect on girls than on boys, although girls still outperform boys in reading.
  • In primary reading, outcomes for girls were largely the same as they had been prior to the pandemic, but there had been an improvement in the attainment of boys. The gap in attainment has narrowed by 1.0 months so girls are 3.1 months ahead of boys.
  • In secondary reading, outcomes for girls have fallen and outcomes for boys are largely the same. The gap in attainment has narrowed by 1.2 months to 4.4 months.
  • In primary maths, results have fallen for both boys and girls, but girls have fallen further so the gap has widened by 2.0 months to 2.9 months.
  • In secondary maths, results have fallen for both boys and girls. The gap has narrowed by 3.6 months to just 0.3 months in favour of girls.

For pupils with SEN, the report finds that:

  • There are very wide attainment gaps between those pupils identified with special educational needs and their peers in each subject and in each phase. These gaps have narrowed slightly since the start of the pandemic but remain substantial.
  • In primary reading, the gap between non-SEN pupils and SEN support pupils has narrowed by 1.0 months to 19.4 months, and the gap between non-SEN pupils and SEN with EHCP pupils has narrowed by 0.2 months to 26.6 months.
  • In secondary reading, outcomes for non-SEN pupils and SEN with EHCP pupils are largely unchanged, but the gap between non-SEN pupils and SEN support pupils has narrowed by 5.0 months to 24.8 months.

On ethnicity, the report finds that:

  • Amongst primary-aged pupils, all ethnic groups have seen improvements since the start of the pandemic in reading.
  • Black primary-aged pupils closed the gap to White pupils and are now slightly ahead.
  • Amongst secondary-aged pupils, pupils from Mixed, Asian, Black, and Other backgrounds have seen results improve, while results for Chinese and White pupils have fallen (though the sample size for Chinese pupils is particularly small).

On regions, the report finds that in primary reading:

  • Geographic regions explain a relatively small percentage of the variation in pupil outcomes, but there are still substantial gaps between different areas of the country.
  • Yorkshire & Humber has been the lowest performing region, with pupils 4.3 months behind pupils in London in primary reading.
  • Pupils in London have seen their results increase the most, up by the equivalent of 1.4 months in primary reading.
  • It was not possible to produce breakdowns for secondary schools and in mathematics due to sample sizes, so this only represents a partial picture.

For pupils with English as an additional language (EAL), the report finds that:

  • In primary reading, outcomes for EAL pupils increased slightly more than those for non-EAL pupils. This means the gap in attainment has narrowed by 0.5 months to 2.9 months.
  • In primary maths, results have fallen for both groups with non-EAL pupils falling slightly further. EAL pupils continue to outperform non-EAL pupils, and the gap has widened by 0.2 months to 2.0 months.
  • In secondary reading, outcomes for non-EAL pupils had fallen, and outcomes for EAL pupils had increased. This means that non-EAL pupils still outperform EAL pupils in secondary reading, but the gap has narrowed by 3.6 months to 10 months.
  • In secondary maths, results have fallen for both groups, but results for non-EAL pupils have fallen further. Non-EAL pupils still outperform EAL pupils, but the gap has narrowed by 2.7 months to 3.9 months.

Jon Andrews, Head of Analysis and Director for School Performance and Systems at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: “We can now see how the attainment effects of the pandemic continue to play out across a wide range of pupil characteristics and in different parts of the country. Understanding how the pandemic has impacted different pupils is key to effectively targeting interventions and raising attainment for all children.

“What’s particularly striking in this latest analysis, is that girls’ attainment appears to have been hit harder by the pandemic than it has for boys, with gaps in reading closing and boys pulling further ahead in primary maths.

“With significant regional variation in pupil outcomes persisting, and pupils in London pulling further ahead of those in other areas, the government should evaluate the impact of the Opportunity Area programme and use this to inform policy development on place-based approaches to tackling social mobility, including the future direction of the Education Investment Area programme.”

Crispin Chatterton, Director of Education at Renaissance Global, added: “Our previous report showed how persistent learning loss is for millions of students post pandemic. Yet as this latest analysis reveals, not all groups have been affected equally – girls and students in certain regions appear to have suffered disproportionately.

“Moreover, although the attainment gap between SEND and non-SEND students has narrowed, the improvements aren’t substantial and the gap between the two remains wide.

“In spite of the resilience, extraordinary commitment and adaptability shown by teachers during Covid, it seems the effects of the pandemic on some children’s learning will linger for some time. To properly identify and address them we need to accept that not only disadvantage, but gender and location are significant factors too.”

A copy of the report “Measuring the outcomes of different pupil groups using Star Assessments 2022/23” is available here.


Background & Methodology

This analysis is the fourth in a series of reports produced by the Education Policy Institute, working in partnership with Renaissance. The purpose of this research programme is to ensure that policy makers and schools have access to robust data on the performance of different pupil groups, so that support is targeted effectively to those who need it most as we continue to recover from the pandemic.

The data analysed in this report is drawn from assessment data from Renaissance’s Star Reading and Star Maths. These provide criterion-based scores that run on a singular scale from year 1 to year 13. The report uses data comprising assessments undertaken in England between the start of the 2017/18 academic year and the end of the summer term of 2022/23, which has been matched with data in the National Pupil Database (NPD) on pupil characteristics and assessment outcomes.

In this report, we consider the outcomes in Star Assessments in reading and mathematics for pupils over time to track how outcomes have changed in comparison with pre-pandemic norms for different pupil groups.

To ensure sufficient sample sizes, we have grouped year groups together into primary and secondary year groups and terms together into scores for the complete academic year. To group scores together in this way, it has been necessary to “standardise” scores. We do this relative to performance in a “baseline” period – the years prior to the pandemic. For a pupil’s result we do this as follows:

  • We take their score and subtract the mean score in that subject, in the equivalent term, in the pupil’s year group, in our baseline data.
  • We then divide that by the standard deviation of scores in that subject, in the equivalent term, in the pupil’s year group, in our baseline data.

The report primarily presents results in terms of standard deviations – a measure of spread – of attainment. This is to allow for a consistent, standardised, scale across different age groups. Using Figure 1 in the report, 0.1 standard deviations in attainment can be broadly interpreted as:

  • 2.4 months of learning in primary reading;
  • 1.7 months of learning in primary mathematics;
  • 4.0 months of learning in secondary reading; and
  • 3.0 months of learning in secondary mathematics.

The attainment gap for pupils with SEND in secondary maths was not evaluated in this report due to small sample sizes. Additionally, we only look at primary reading results by region due to small sample sizes.

About Education Policy Institute

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) is an independent, impartial, and evidence-based research institute that promotes high quality education outcomes, regardless of social background. We achieve this through data-led analysis, innovative research and high-profile events. Find out more about our work here.

About Renaissance

As a leader in education technology, Renaissance is committed to providing schools and school groups with insights and resources to accelerate learning and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Our assessments (which now include GL Assessment) offer the ideal starting point to help schools understand their students’ strengths, pinpoint areas of need, and put targeted measures in place. Our teaching and learning programmes then provide effective next steps to drive better student outcomes. Find out more about Renaissance here.

For further information and to arrange media interviews
For Education Policy Institute (EPI) –, 0207 340 1168
For Renaissance –, 0203 763 2703

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