There were substantial gaps between state and private secondary schools in the intensity of remote learning during the first lockdown in 2020, with the private sector much better placed to adapt quickly. 96% of independent school pupils had live online lessons in the first lockdown, compared to 65% of state school pupils. While state sector provision improved in the second period of school closures in early 2021, inequalities opened up within the state sector. Grammar schools (96%) and comprehensive schools with more affluent intakes (95%) caught up the most, compared to 80% at schools with the most deprived intakes.
Barriers to remote learning – such as lack of access to a suitable device for learning or sharing a device, lack of a quiet space in the home, lack of support from teachers or parents – were all more likely to be experienced by young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and those who experienced those barriers reported working fewer hours during lockdowns. Those without a device worked on average 8 hours per week in lockdown 1, those with just a mobile phone 10 hours, and those with a laptop or tablet 14 hours.
While many pupils without suitable devices received support through school and government distribution programmes, over half (53%) of those who lacked a device at the beginning of the pandemic had still not received one by the end of the second period of school closures.
Problems with internet access showed a different pattern, complicated by the fact that more intensive online learning was associated with more internet problems. Having internet issues was not associated with working fewer hours.
Patterns by ethnicity and race were mixed. Overall there were few differences in the amount of time spent learning by ethnic background. While young people from Black and Asian backgrounds were more likely to receive tutoring and had parents more confident with support for learning, they were also more likely to need to share devices and less likely to have a quiet place to study.