2. Aspects of schooling during lockdowns

In most, though not all, countries across the world, the measures implemented to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus during the “first wave” of the pandemic from late February to June 2020 involved generalised “lockdowns” – restrictions on movement and the size of gatherings (public and private), the closure of a range of businesses and other institutions including schools and other educational institutions such as vocational colleges and universities. The duration of school closures over the period February to end-June 2020 (the end of the school year in the northern hemisphere) was between 0-19 weeks (including vacations) in OECD countries depending on the level of schooling (Figure 2.1). Net of holidays in this period (school holidays plus other public holidays, amounting to around 2-3 weeks in most countries), closures meant the substitution of 4-9 weeks of face-to-face instruction with home-based learning in the majority of OECD countries. In those countries in which schools were re-opened for face-to-face instruction before the end of the 2019-20 school year, the reopening of schools was often staggered. Different year groups returned at different dates and pupils did not necessarily return on a full-time basis. In addition, some parents continued to keep their children at home even if they belonged to the age or year groups eligible to return to school. In some countries, schools continued to be closed from the end of July in the southern hemisphere or did not reopen at the start of the 2020-21 school year.

The closure of schools did not mean that all children undertook their schooling at home. In some countries (including those covered in this chapter), the children of so-called “essential” workers or of parents who had difficulty looking after children at home during usual school hours as well as children in vulnerable circumstances could continue to attend school in-person. “Essential” workers covered a diverse group of occupations from high status health professionals to shop assistants and transportation workers. The available information suggests considerable variations between countries regarding the proportion of children that attended school in person during lockdowns. In England, the proportion of children attending school during lockdown was small. From the 20 March 2020 until the 1 June 2020 when schools started to reopen, between 1% to 3% of enrolled pupils attended school in-person on any day (Gov.uk, 2020[2]) with around 7% of parents in one study reporting that their child aged 5-16 years had attended school in-person during lockdown (NHS Digital, 2020[3], Table 4.1). In Australia,1 in mid-May, 17% of parents/guardians reported that the child in their household attended school in person (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2020[4], Table 3.1). In France, 31% of primary schools, 25% of lower secondary schools and 7% of upper secondary schools remained open for attendance by children of essential workers (Direction de l'évaluation de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[5], Figure 7-1), but the numbers of students who attended are not available. In the United States, only 0.5% of parents reported that their child’s or children’s school remained open between April and June 2020 (US Census Bureau, 2020). In Finland, 5% of children overall continued to go to school, with big variations depending on the school level: in April 2020 (week 17), 1% to 4% of primary schoolchildren attended in-person classes, but the shares were much higher for kindergarten with 17% of attendance in person. In municipal and private early childhood and care institutions, in-presence attendance amounted to 27% and 32% of enrolments (Finnish Ministry of Education and Regional State Agency, 2020[6]).

In many countries, there was also a group of children whose mode of learning was not directly affected by school closures. These were children who were normally “home schooled”. The share of such students among total enrolments is, of course, small. In the United States (where the phenomenon is the most widespread in the OECD area), for example, home schooled children represent around 3% of school enrolments (Snyder, de Brey and Dillow, 2019[7], Table 206.10).2 Much lower shares are found in other countries – less than 1% of enrolments or of the relevant age group in Australia (Chapman, 2020[8]), France (Ministère de l'Éducation nationale, de la Jeunesse et des Sports, 2020[9]), and the United Kingdom (Office of the Schools Adjudicator, 2020[10]). For these children, the impact of the health crisis was typically indirect, depending on how the crisis affected their parents’ employment and health.

One of the features of schooling during the school closures was the use of online resources and tools to deliver lessons and instructional materials and to communicate with students. What was the balance between the use of online resources and tools to deliver lessons, access, transmit and receive instructional materials and student work compared to other, more “traditional”, means? Online tools and platforms represented the predominant mode of delivery of lessons and learning materials for students undertaking their education at home (see Table 2.1), primarily dedicated educational platforms or applications or email. It is difficult to get a good picture of the part played by real-time online interaction with teachers during the period of school closures due to the variation in the questions and reference periods used in the different surveys. In France, 69% of secondary students reported that they attended remote lessons delivered by a teacher (or teachers) at some point during the March-June school closures (Direction de l’évaluation, de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[11], Table 2) (though no information is available on the frequency or intensity of such lessons). In one survey in the United Kingdom, 25% of parents reported that their child had received real-time interactive learning in the previous seven days and, in another in England, 32% of parents reported that their child had received one or more online live lesson per day. Fourteen percent of German teachers stated that they had taught classes by video calls. In the United States, the average total time spent by all students in households in contact with teachers was 4 hours per week (see Table 2.5 below).

Paper materials provided by schools were also used by a reasonably sized minority of students, in most cases in conjunction with digital materials. In France 11% of secondary students received learning materials in the form of printed documents. In the United States, 19-21% of parents/guardians reported that their child’s classes had moved to distance format using paper materials. Higher rates of usage of paper materials was reported in the United Kingdom where 34% of the children who were home schooled used some non-digital resources provided by their school. Teachers confirm this picture.

Several studies in Germany asked parents (or teachers) how instruction was delivered to school children (D21 Initiative/TUM/Kantar, 2020[12]; Huebener, Spieß and Zinn, 2020[13]; Vodafone Foundation, 2020[14]; Wößmann et al., 2020[15]). The overall picture is consistent between studies, despite differences in timing, questions and methodology. Table 2.1 shows two perspectives on this. According to parents, learning materials were predominantly accessed virtually (sent by email or the cloud mainly) or had been provided to students in paper form prior to schools closing, with instruction via videoconference being much less frequent. This is also in line with teachers’ reports. Wößmann and his colleagues (Wößmann et al., 2020[15]) provide some further information (based on parents’ reports) on the nature of the schoolwork children undertook during school closures. Students completed homework provided by schools (at least once of week according to 96% of households, including daily for 51%) and returned it to teachers (at least once a week for 78% and daily for 17%). Teachers gave feedback on the work (at least once a week according to 65%). Children were also often asked to read texts or watch learning videos (at least once a week for 73% and daily for 15%) and, to a lesser extent, use educational software/programmes (at least once a week for 57% and daily for 13%). All-class lessons via videoconference were relatively uncommon (at least once a week for 43% and never for 45%). One-on-one talks with teachers were even less so (at least once a week for 34% and never for 45%). In summary, most students were provided with homework digitally or in paper form, that they mainly had to complete by themselves and for which they received written feedback from teachers. The use of videoconferencing to conduct classes or to provide tutoring by teachers was relatively infrequent.

The extent of use of online tools and resources for the delivery of instruction and materials increased with the age of pupils and by level of education. The proportion of teachers in France suggesting activities to students that required use of a computer connected to the Internet was lowest at primary level and highest at upper-secondary level (see Table 2.1). In Germany, students in primary school were much less likely than secondary students to have contact via video conference or receive learning materials digitally, and much more likely to receive print materials before school closure. High school students in the academic track (Gymnasium) were also much more likely than other secondary school students to attend classes online via videoconference (Huebener, Spieß and Zinn, 2020[13]). In the United Kingdom, the proportion of children using school-provided real-time interactive online learning increased with the age of the oldest child and the use of school-provided non-digital resources declined (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2020[16], Table 2). Similarly, the share of students having one or more online live lesson per day in the United Kingdom was higher for secondary students (36%) than for primary students (27%) (Benzeval et al., 2020[17]).

Some informant regarding the use of different modes of remote instruction by parental background is available for Germany and the United States. In Germany, the children of less educated parents appeared to have less interaction with teachers and less frequent use of most forms of learning platforms and materials during the period of closure than the children of more highly educated parents. Children from families with a parent with less than tertiary educational attainment were more likely to never have had a video-conference as a class (49% compared to 37% for their peers with tertiary educated parents); to never have had an individual discussion with a teacher (49% as opposed to 33%); to never have had a video to watch or text to read (21% compared to 10%); to never have had to use a learning software (34% compared to 26%); to never have had to submit homework (11% as opposed to 5%) and to never have received feedback on the submitted homework (19% compared to 10%). The likelihood that a student had never been asked to do some homework was, however, unrelated to parental education (Wößmann et al., 2020[15]).

In the United States, the proportion of households in which some or all of children’s classes moved to a distance learning format using online resources increased with the educational attainment of the respondent and household income. It was also associated with ethnic background. Classes were more likely to have moved to online delivery among households in which the respondent was White or Asian (78% and 82% respectively) than Latino/Hispanic (72%) or Black (65%) (United States Census Bureau, 2020[20], Education Table 2).

The positive relationship between education and income and being a member of a black or Hispanic/Latino household and the probability of some or all of children’s classes moving to online delivery may have reflected a deliberate choice on the part of their schools to use paper-based materials due to the difficulty (real or perceived) for their students to access materials online. The data suggest, however, that rather than compensate for difficulties with online access by using paper-based materials, schools may have chosen simply to cancel some classes. There were only small differences in the proportion of households in which some or all children’s classes moved to a distance-learning format using paper materials sent home according to the characteristics of the respondent. However, children in low-educated and low-income household and children in Black and Hispanic/Latino households were more likely than children in more advantaged households to have some or all of their classes cancelled.

Given the reliance on online delivery of instruction and learning materials and online communication between students and teachers, access to the necessary devices and networks was essential for students in order to continue their schooling successfully. What evidence is there regarding access to digital devices and the Internet during the period of school closures and the extent to which access was related to students’ social background?

In many countries, a substantial minority of households and students experienced difficulties with access (Table 2.2). This is true even in countries where the level of access to digital devices and to the Internet is (almost) universal, as is the case in Germany (D21 Initiative/TUM/Kantar, 2020[12]) or in France (where 99% of students had some access to an Internet connection).

Unsurprisingly, access to digital devices and reliable Internet connections was related to social background. In France, secondary school students from advantaged social backgrounds were more likely than those from disadvantaged backgrounds to have access to devices such as a computer, tablet or printer/scanner (either belonging to the individual student or present in the household) (Direction de l’évaluation, de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[22], Figure 2.2). In the United Kingdom, parents more often cited lack of devices as a reason for their children struggling to continue their education in low than high-income households. However, no clear relationship with level of parental education was observed (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2020[16], Table 4). In the United States, the proportion of parents reporting that it was very or somewhat likely that their child would encounter at least one of three digital obstacles to doing their schoolwork at home (“needing to use a cell phone”, “using a public Wi-Fi network because no reliable Internet at home” and “being unable to complete schoolwork because they did not have access to a computer at home”) decreased as family income increased (Horowitz, 2020[23]). The share of households with children in public or private schools with a computer always available for educational purposes also increased with household income (United States Census Bureau, 2020[20], Education Table 3). Teachers in the United States working in high poverty schools were significantly more likely to report that their students lacked access to the Internet and devices at home (Stelitano et al., 2020[24]).

The school/school district played an important role in the provision of computers for use by students in the United States. Around 40% of parents/guardians reported that the child in their household had access to a computer provided by the children’s school or school district for use outside school (United States Census Bureau, 2020[20], Education Table 4). The use of a computer supplied by the school or school district was highest among households headed by low educated and low-income adults and in households headed by blacks, Hispanics and Latinos. The importance of the school in the provision of devices in the United States is confirmed by a survey in late April/early May 2020 in which 78% of teachers indicated that their school provided students with devices (Stelitano et al., 2020[24]). In contrast, relatively low rates of access to devices provided by schools were reported in France and the United Kingdom. Some 8% of pupils in year 6 and 7% in year 10 in France used a computer or tablet provided by their school to undertake schoolwork during the period of school closures (Direction de l’évaluation, de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2021[28]). In the United Kingdom, only 5% of parents who “home schooled” their eldest/only child indicated that their child used a device provided by the school (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2020[16], Table 2).3

The closure of school buildings meant that the delivery of education had to be adjusted to allow (most) students to continue their education in their homes. In a number of countries, the content and focus of instruction and the amount of work pupils were expected to do was adjusted to reflect the new circumstances of learning. OECD (2021[1], Figure 1.4) reports that in 6 out of 33 countries for which data were available, governments gave priority to the teaching of certain areas of the curriculum or skills during the March-June 2020 period of school closures while, in a further 5 countries, decisions as to such adjustments were left to school districts or individual schools4. Surveys of teachers provide a more fine-grained picture of the adjustments to the curriculum and to the expectations regarding the content covered by instruction.

French teachers reported that the main priority of their school during the period of closure was to preserve their pupils’ link with learning (53% of primary school and 58% of secondary school teachers) rather than to continue to advance with the teaching programme (cited by 5% of primary and 7% of secondary school teachers) or the consolidation of students’ learning (cited by 23% of primary and 12% of secondary school teachers) (Direction de l'évaluation de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[5], Figures 6-1 and 6-4). German and American teachers appear to have adjusted their expectations in similar ways. A survey carried out in April 2020 in Germany found that 35% of primary and secondary teachers aimed exclusively at maintaining the learning level of students before lockdown and that 45% expected to continue with the curriculum, but a slower pace than usual, with only 7% expecting to continue at the same pace as before (Vodafone Foundation, 2020[14]) In a survey of US teachers in late April/early May 2020, only 12% of teachers reported covering all, or nearly all, of the curriculum that they would have covered had their buildings remained open. In response to the question of whether they were focusing on reviewing content that was taught before COVID-19 versus presenting new content, 46% indicated that they were focusing mostly or exclusively on review rather than introducing new content (Hamilton, Kaufman and Diliberti, 2020[29]).

In summary, in the countries for which data are available, remote learning during the March-June 2020 period of school closures involved a combination use of online and paper-based materials, with more online delivery for older children. The combination of limitation in access to appropriate devices and connectivity, especially for lower socio-economic families, as well as reduced teacher ambitions about curriculum coverage hint to a reduced coverage of the usual curriculum during the month(s) of schooling at home.

An important indicator of the effect of school closures and the associated changes to the mode of instruction on pupils’ learning is the amount of time that school students devoted to educational activities during this period. This can be compared with normal instruction time at school to give an idea of the impact on the quantity of learning. While such comparisons are informative, some caution is advised in interpreting them. On the one hand, the estimates of student learning time at home reported by both parents and children are likely to be subject to reasonably large measurement errors. Parents may have an inexact understanding of how much time their children (especially older children) spent on schoolwork, and schoolchildren may over- or under-report for reasons of social desirability as well as difficulties with recall. On the other hand, official instruction time is not an error free measure of the time pupils actually devote to learning at school. Children attending classes are engaged in learning to varying degrees (from staring out the window to giving full attention to their lessons). In addition, in normal times, many students undertake some schoolwork at home in the form of own study, homework, preparation for exams and tests.5

One possible consequence of the physical closure of schools was that some children completely disengaged from school and spent no time on school learning at all. There are many factors that could lead to such a situation: limited supervision, support or encouragement provided by parents/guardians, failure of schools to provide schoolwork and instructional materials, teachers who lacked the experience or training to maintain the engagement of students through remote learning, lack of access to the technology necessary to maintain a link with their school and teachers (e.g. computers, stable Internet connections), living conditions that made study difficult or impossible (e.g. crowded apartments, lack of space to study) or simply lack of interest or willingness on the part of the student.

There is evidence that a small, though by no means negligible, proportion of students stopped (school-related) learning activities during the period of school closures. One measure of this is the proportion of students with whom schools had no contact. In the Czech Republic, schools lost contact with over 20% of upper secondary students enrolled in the vocational track, and between 11% to 20% of students enrolled in primary and lower secondary education (Czech School Inspectorate (CSI), 2020[18]). Smaller proportions of children were “lost” to the system in France, where teachers estimated that they had lost contact with 6% of primary school students and 10% of secondary school students in their classes while schools were closed (Direction de l'évaluation de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[5], Figures 1-9 and 1-10). In primary education, these were children who could not be contacted either directly or through their parents or who refused to participate in learning activities (Direction de l'évaluation de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[5], Figures 1-11). In secondary education, according to chief education advisors, these students were essentially students who had a history of absenteeism, lack of motivation and major learning difficulties (Direction de l'évaluation de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[5], Figures 1-12 to 1-14). In line with these estimates, 8% of parents of French secondary school students indicated that their child had not done any school work set by his/her teachers during the period of school closures (Direction de l'évaluation de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[5], Figure 2-8). In Germany, in 15% of households with school age children, parents reported that no digital school lesson or exchange with teachers took place (D21 Initiative/TUM/Kantar, 2020[12]). In the United Kingdom, 17% of 16-18 year-olds in full-time education surveyed between 7 May and 7 June 2020 indicated that they had not continued with their education in the previous week6 (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2020[16], Table 5).

In addition, there were children who did not receive any schoolwork from their schools. In the United Kingdom, for example, around 10% of parents of schoolchildren reported that their child had not received schoolwork to complete at home in April 2020 (Eivers, Worth and Ghosh, 2020[30]). The proportion was highest for children in upper secondary schooling. Around 25% of the parents of children in Key Stages 4 and 5 (Years 10-12) indicated that their child received no schoolwork. For children preparing for exams (e.g. General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) and A-levels), this may have reflected the fact that they had already covered the relevant curricula by the time schools had closed and that there was no need to undertake further study during a period normally devoted to exam revision. In other data from the United Kingdom, 25% of parents reported that the children who were educated at home had not undertaken activities using material provided by their school in the preceding week (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2020[16], Table 2). It is not possible to determine whether this was because no schoolwork was provided or because children and/or their parents decided not to use it.

The amount of time students spent on schoolwork during the period of school closures is a topic covered in a number of surveys. The data collected are not completely comparable, however, in terms of the definitions of schoolwork, the reference period (an average day, the previous week) or the exact populations covered. Table 2.3 presents broadly comparable estimates of daily hours spent on schooling activities for France, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom7 during the March-June period of closures. Data from the United States are presented separately in Table 2.4.

Table 2.4 presents data on the time spent in school-related teaching and learning activities in the United States during school closures. The first column concerns households and the second, individual schoolchildren. The data concerning households in the United States are not directly comparable with the estimates relating to individual children in the United States or elsewhere as: (1) they represent the sum of the hours spent by all children in the household on learning activities and all hours spent by all household members on teaching activities with children and rather than hours spent in learning activities per individual child and (2) learning/teaching activities are not limited to those based on material or lessons provide by schools.

In France (primary level), Germany, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States, the school week generally involves around 4.5-6 hours of instruction per day (23-30 hours per week) depending on the country and the level of schooling [see for France, Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, de la Jeunesse et des Sports (2021[33]); for Ireland, Gov.ie (2019[34]); and for the United States, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2018[35], Table 5.14)]. Thus, in the countries for which we have data, the average amount of time (per day or per week) that school pupils spent on schoolwork (however defined) during the period of school closures was less than the hours of instruction time that they would have received at school in “normal” conditions. In France, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom (unfortunately the US data do not lend themselves to such a calculation), this represents about half the usual instruction time (about 3 hours against the 5-6 hours of formal instruction per day depending on the level of schooling). As noted above, in “normal” conditions, most students would also spend some time undertaking schoolwork or study activities at home in addition to the time spent in classes at school. Taking into account total time spent on schoolwork at school and at home prior to the school closures, the average time spent on schoolwork by German school children fell from a total of 7.4 hours pre-closure to 3.6 hours during closures (Wößmann et al., 2020[15]).

As can be seen from Table 2.3 there was considerable variation in the time spent on schoolwork by individual children. In normal conditions, the time spent by pupils being instructed in classes will not vary greatly as this is set by the school timetable and the relevant regulations. Variation in the time devoted to schoolwork will be due largely to time spent on schoolwork at home by students (e.g. in the form of study, revision, homework, completion of assignments, etc.). In the period of school closures, time spent on schoolwork was to a greater or lesser extent determined by the students themselves and their parents as opposed to the “institutional constraints” of timetabled classes.

The time children spent on schoolwork during school closures shows no clear relationship with either the level of education of parents/guardians (Table 2.5), household income or ethnicity.

Of the four countries for which data are available, no clear relationship between the time spent on schoolwork and the education level of parents/guardians is observed in Ireland or the United Kingdom. A positive relationship is observed in the United States and in Germany, though in the latter case, the relationship is very weak, as was also true before the pandemic (Wößmann et al., 2020[15]).

Data on hours of schoolwork during school closures are available by the respondent’s income (United Kingdom), household income (United States), by ethnic background (United States) and by socio-economic status and the level of disadvantage of the school (France). Hours of schooling were highest for students with highest income parents group in the United Kingdom (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2020[16], Table 2) and (Eivers, Worth and Ghosh, 2020[30]) but no association exists between household income or ethnicity and hours of schoolwork in the United States (United States Census Bureau, 2020[20], Education Table 1). The daily hours of schoolwork for secondary students increased with parental occupational status in France (Direction de l’évaluation, de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[22], Figure 1.1) and were higher for primary school pupils in non-disadvantaged than disadvantaged schools (Direction de l’évaluation, de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2021[28], Table 10).

Interestingly, in both France and Germany, large differences in the time devoted to schoolwork during closures were found according to students’ academic performance (as assessed by their parents). In France, for example, 52% of secondary level students judged to have “excellent” academic performance studied for 3 hours or more per day as opposed to only 28% of those with “significant difficulties” (Direction de l’évaluation, de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[11], Table 1). In Germany, students with lower grades reduced the time spent on school-related work during the period of closures compared to the pre-COVID situation by 4.1 hours per day compared to 3.7 hours for students with higher school grades (Wößmann et al., 2020[15]).

Given the limited direct contact students had with teachers, parents and guardians had to take over much of the role of the supervision of their children’s education (including instruction) during the period of school closures. In this section, the role of parents, guardians and other family members played in the education of children is explored. What proportion of parents assisted their children and how much time did they spend doing so? What assistance did they provide and how comfortable were they with supporting their children’s education?

Data on whether or not parents/guardians assisted their children with their schooling during lockdown are available for France (as reported by students), the United Kingdom and the United States (as reported by parents/guardians) (Table 2.6).

In all three countries for which data are presented, the proportion of children receiving assistance tended to decrease as their level of schooling increased. Higher proportions of parents/guardians provided assistance for their children enrolled in primary school than for those in secondary education in the United Kingdom and the United States. In France and the United Kingdom, students at lower secondary level received more assistance than those in senior secondary schooling. This is likely to reflect the greater autonomy and independence of older children and the lesser expertise of parents concerning the content of the curriculum in the later years of high school.

Considerable caution should be exercised in in comparing the proportions of pupils receiving assistance between countries (and within countries using different data sources) due to differences in the respondent populations (students compared to parents) and to differences in the questions asked.

Assistance was also provided by other family or household members (e.g. siblings) as well as by parents. In France, 21% of lower secondary school students and 14% of upper secondary school students8 reported being helped by family members other than their parents (Direction de l'évaluation de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[5]) Figure 2-5). In the United States, parents reported that between 3%-5% of school children received assistance from other household members depending on the level of schooling of the child (University of Southern California (USC), 2020[32]).

The average time devoted by parents in the United Kingdom to assisting children during the period of school closures is estimated to have been 2 hours per day to primary school children and 0.9 hours per day to secondary students9 (Pensiero, Kelly and Bokhove, 2020[36]). In Germany, parents spent on average 1.1 hours a day working with their school age children (Wößmann et al., 2020[15]). In the United States, the total average time devoted to teaching activities during school closures by parents/guardians was around 12 hours per week – per household rather than per parent (see Table 2.5 above).10

Table 2.7 presents data on the distribution of the time parents spent assisting children in France and the United Kingdom. Parents devoted more time to assisting younger children (in lower grades) than to older children (in higher grades). A large proportion of parents in both countries reported that they provided little support to children enrolled in general upper secondary education. Some 70% of the parents of students in upper secondary general education in France and 90% of the parents of students at upper secondary level in the United Kingdom assisted their children for less than 1 hour per day and in many cases much less. For example, 47% of parents of students in general upper secondary education assisted their child(ren) for less than 15 minutes per day (Direction de l'évaluation de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[5], Figure 5-2).

Mothers tended to spend more time assisting their children with schoolwork during the period of closures than did fathers [see Benzeval et al. (2020[17]) for the United Kingdom, and Zinn, Kreyenfeld and Bayer (2020[37]) for Germany]. This is likely to reflect both the “typical” gender distribution of household labour as well as the impact of school closures and lockdowns (see below).

As expected, compared to “normal” times, the amount of time devoted to assisting children with schoolwork increased for most (but not all) parents during the period of school closures. Overall, 65% of the parents of French secondary school students said that they spent more time than usual during confinement helping their children with school work, 21% as much time as usual and 8% less time (Direction de l'évaluation de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[5], Figure 5-5). In Germany, the average amount of time parents spent assisting children with schoolwork doubled from half an hour per day before the lockdown to 1.1 hours per day (Wößmann et al., 2020[15]). Similarly, in Italy, two-thirds (67%) of adults who cared for children of 0-14 years of age during lockdown reported spending more time in childcare activities (both homework and play) compared to an average pre-COVID day, 30% the same amount and 3% less time (Instituto Nazionale di Statistica (Istat), 2020[38], Figure 4). This was also true of parents in the United Kingdom who spent 40 minutes more on average on “developmental childcare” (which included assistance with schoolwork) in April 2020 than did parents in 2014-15 (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2020[39]). Mothers increased the time spent assisting children with schoolwork more often than did fathers. For example, in France, 62% of the mothers of secondary school students reported increasing the time spent helping their children with schoolwork during the period of school closures compared to usual compared to 28% of fathers (Direction de l’évaluation, de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[11], Figures 7 and 8). In Germany, mothers increased the time devoted to childcare (including assistance for schoolwork) during lockdown by 2.9 hours compared to 2.5 hours for fathers (Zinn, Kreyenfeld and Bayer, 2020[37]).

Regarding the relationship between parental socio-economic status and the provision of assistance by parents, the evidence is mixed and, sometimes, contradictory (Table 2.8).

The lack of evidence of a consistent (and positive) relationship between parental socio-economic status and the provision of assistance to children in the countries covered is somewhat contrary to expectations. One reason for this may be that the circumstances of lockdowns meant that, during lockdowns, parents with low levels of education and income had more time available to assist children compared to parents with high levels of education and income than in normal circumstances. For example, employees in management and professional occupations – i.e. occupations associated with high levels of education and high incomes – were more likely than those in other occupational groups to continue to work paid hours as opposed to being in some form of inactivity (e.g. working zero hours, furlough, temporary layoff) during lockdowns (see Chapter 3).

There is very little consistent information across countries regarding the nature of parental assistance to schoolchildren. French parents reported that 57% of secondary school students were completely independent regarding the organisation of their work (and, therefore, presumably did not need or receive assistance), a figure in line with the share of students reporting receiving assistance from parents received cited above. Where assistance was provided, it consisted in providing help only when asked (37% of parents), checking completed work (37%) and working with their children (30%) (Direction de l'évaluation de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[5], Figure 2-9). Over one in five parents (22%) reported that their child had undertaken schoolwork at their initiative (as opposed to work proposed by teachers or at the initiative of the child him- or herself) (Direction de l'évaluation de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[5], Figure 2-8). From a different perspective, parents also assisted children by providing learning materials. Some 49% of UK parents who home-schooled their children reported that their child had used digital online learning resources and 40% that the child had used non-digital resources that they (the parent) had found (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2020[16], Table 2). In the United States, in addition to using an online distance learning programme from their school for their child’s education (70%), parents also used home schooling material that they had selected (26%), a free online learning programme not associated with their school (16%) and/or a formal paid learning programme not associated with their school (6%) (Brenan, 2020[41]). In Australia, 23% of parents whose children stayed home because of COVID-19 purchased additional equipment such as computers or desks to support their children’s learning (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2020[4], Table 4.1).

A US study looking at searches for online educational materials using the Google search engine (Bacher-Hicks, Goodman and Mulhern, 2021[42]) provides evidence in line with parental reports regarding their involvement in locating digital learning materials for their children. The intensity of searches for school-centred and parent-centred resources increased relatively to the same period in prior years with a peak in April from which point it declined but remained above previously observed levels. Demand for online resources increased in both high and low socio-economic status (SES) areas. However, the increase was substantially greater in high SES areas. Areas of the United States with higher income, greater Internet access, and fewer rural schools had substantially larger increases than did less advantaged areas.

Most parents assisted their children with their education during the period of school closures, even if the amount of time involved varied. To what extent were parents/guardians comfortable with, and prepared for, this role?

In both the United Kingdom and the United States, slightly less than half of the parents/guardians of schoolchildren appeared comfortable in their ability to support the home schooling of their children. At the end of April 2020, only 45% of parents/guardians in the United Kingdom agreed that they were confident in their abilities to support school work of their children within their household even if a much larger share (75%) believed that they had access to the resources they needed to help them “home school” their children/child well (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2020[16], Table 1). Of parents who felt their child was struggling to continue his/her education, 36% cited limited subject knowledge on the part of parents/carers and 33% cited limited time (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2020[16], Table 4). In a national survey of parents of K-12 students in the United States, 56% of parents reported that their child’s remote learning had been difficult or very difficult for themselves and their spouse/partner (Jones, 2020[43]). Consistent with this, in May 2020, two-thirds (68%) of US parents reported that knowing how to teach children in ways they could learn had been a challenge in terms of the remote distance education of their child (Jones, 2020[44]).

Very similar results were found in France. Around half or more of French parents of secondary school students had some problems11 finding the time to assist children (51%) and helping their children understand lessons (48%), with slightly lower proportions having at least some problems helping their child understand instructions from teachers (42%) or finding information about the schoolwork that needed to be completed (39%) (Direction de l'évaluation de la prospective et de la performance (DEPP), 2020[5], Figure 5-4). In another study, 35% of French adults with children reported difficulties in supervising their children’s education (Albouy and Legleye, 2020[45]).

However, in Ireland, parents seemed even less confident (Central Statistics Office (CSO), 2020[26]). When asked in August 2020 whether they were concerned about their capacity to provide adequate home learning support if their child’s primary school was closed in the new school year, 85% of Irish parents of primary school students indicated that had some concerns with 51% being very or extremely concerned.12

The relationship of parental socio-economic status with their perceptions of their ability to provide support for their children’s education varies by country. In France, the proportion of parents in households with children aged 14 years or less reporting difficulties in ensuring the supervision of their children was higher among low income than among high-income parents (Albouy and Legleye, 2020[45]). In the United Kingdom, the extent to which parents were confident in their ability to support children in their remote schooling was unrelated to income (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2020[16], Table 1). However, it was positively related to their level of education. Parents with higher degree qualifications in the United Kingdom were more likely than other parents to agree that they were confident in their abilities to “home school” the children/child within their household (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2020[16], Table 1).

In Ireland, the reverse was found: parents with higher education qualifications were more likely to be “very” or “extremely” concerned about their ability to provide adequate home learning support if schools were closed in the new school year than parents with a highest qualification at secondary level or lower and less likely to be “not at all” concerned (Central Statistics Office (CSO), 2020[26]).

A number of surveys collected information on the difficulties or challenges experienced by school students in undertaking their schooling at home. As noted above, access to devices and networks represented a problem for some students. However, difficulties of a psychological and social nature seem to have affected more students than those related to access to and the use of technology (Table 2.9). The reported challenges for students were balanced by other positive features of home-based schooling and lockdowns (see, for example, the discussion of family relationships in Chapter 3 and the assessment of the positive and negative features of home learning and its impact on academic progress discussed in Chapter 4).

The closure of schools as part of the lockdown measures implemented in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic in March-June 2020 radically altered the conditions and experience of schooling for pupils. Schooling moved from in-person to distance/remote instruction. In terms of the delivery of instruction and learning materials, the use of online tools and platforms predominated, with paper-based materials continuing to be used by a sizeable minority of students. Real-time interaction with teachers represented a relatively small component of the educational experience during the period of closures. While most pupils appeared to have access to the devices and networks needed to continue their schooling remotely, a significant minority (10%-30% depending on the country) experienced greater or lesser difficulties, with pupils from less advantaged families having greater problems than those from more advantaged families.

The average time spent on learning by school pupils during the period of closures was about half the usual or mandated hours of instruction. However, the ratio of the time spent on learning activities by pupils during closures to usual instruction time is a far from perfect measure of the levels of relative effort expended by pupils during closures and in normal conditions. Most, though by no means all parents provided support and assistance to children doing schoolwork at home and the majority of parents increased the amount of time devoted to assisting their children with schoolwork (and childcare more generally) during the period of closures compared to that provided in normal circumstances. Parental support was greatest for younger children in the earlier years of schooling. Across the countries for which data are available, no clear relationship exists between either parental education, income or broad socio-economic status and either the hours of study of pupils or the provision of support by parents.


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← 1. Where less severe “lockdown” measures regarding restrictions on business activities were implemented than many other countries.

← 2. In the US Household Pulse, around 5% of parents/guardians in the United States reported that their child was “already homeschooled” in waves 1-6 (United States Census Bureau, 2020[20], Table 1).

← 3. OECD (2021[1], Figure 2.2) reports that over 80% of the countries providing data indicated that they offered support to “populations at risk of exclusion from distance education platforms” in the form of “subsidised devices for access (PCs or/and tablets)” during the first period of school closures. However, no information is available on what proportion of pupils had access to such support.

← 4. In reality, what happened in practice was determined, to a considerable extent, by teachers. For example, most French teachers reported that they adjusted expectations regarding progress with the teaching programme during school closures even though reduction of curriculum content was not a formal governmental priority or requirement.

← 5. In theory, the average time that children who are usually “home-schooled” (i.e. normally taught at home) spend on schoolwork may provide a more appropriate benchmark against which the impact of school closures on the time that children devoted to schoolwork can be assessed. However, little information is available about the time use of this (very small) group of students, who are, in addition, highly diverse in terms of family background and resources, the motivations for being home-schooled and the pedagogical practices of their tutors [see, for example, Kunzman and Gaither (2020[46])].

← 6. The estimate is based on small numbers, however, and is associated with a large margin of error.

← 7. Data on hours spent on schoolwork in the United Kingdom in the previous 7 days during May 2020 are also available from (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2020[16]). Children aged 5-10 years spend 10 hours, children aged 11-15 years, 16 hours and children aged 16-18 spent 15 hours on schoolwork provided by their school. These data relate to the following population: parents/guardians in households with dependent children aged 5-18 years who a) indicated that they had home-schooled their child/children and b) indicated that the eldest or only child in the household being home-schooled had used resources provided by the school. This represents 66% of all parents/guardians with dependent school age children. As a result, the figures are likely to over-estimate the average time spent by all school pupils on schoolwork as students whose parents have not supported their learning or received school-provided resources may have studied less.

← 8. No difference between general and vocational tracks.

← 9. The data is from the Understanding Society study. The question asked was: “How much time do you or other family members spend actively helping {childname}?”

← 10. The US and UK estimates are not directly comparable as they do not refer to the same statistical unit. In the case of the US data, the unit concerned is the household. The UK data refer to individual parents.

← 11. The proportions reported are those of parents reporting having problems “very often”, “often” and “from time to time”. The proportions of parents reporting these problems “very often” or “often” are lower.

← 12. It should be noted that this question concerns the ability to provide home learning support in the future rather than a judgment regarding their current capacity as in the other studies.

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