UK children could ‘lose 3% of lifetime earnings’ due to lockdown school closures


Royal Society report warns without catch up younger children potentially face loss of £40,000 future income

British children could lose £40,000 of their potential lifetime earnings unless UK governments can repair the gaps in learning caused by this year’s coronavirus school closures, according to a worst-case scenario published by the Royal Society.

The report issued by the society urges the UK’s governments to “do everything feasible” to avoid further school closures – including shutting pubs and shops ahead of schools in the event of repeat outbreaks – or risk further harming the mental health and future careers of a generation.

Simon Burgess, an author of the report and an economics professor at the University of Bristol, said missing a third of a school year would cause lasting damage to pupils’ education. Based on evidence from prolonged school closures overseas, the report said average lifetime earnings could be lowered by up to 3% if pupils were not given opportunities to catch up.

“The 3% loss of earnings potential is an estimate, based on assuming that home learning during lockdown was largely unsuccessful, and nothing is done to address the learning losses we have seen so far. The Department for Education [in England] is designing a remediation programme which may significantly reduce this impact and alongside other measures may help remediate it entirely,” Burgess said.

“If there were to be no remediation, and if learning at home during lockdown was not very successful, the evidence from other countries considered in the report with similar lost learning time suggests a 3% loss in earning potential would be plausible.

“Average earnings in the UK for 2019 were around £30,000, meaning a 3% reduction would amount to a loss of around £900 per year. Over a working lifetime of about 45 years this could theoretically amount to lifetime lost earnings of up to £40,000 in younger children, but we would expect this to be much lower where remediation measures are taken.”


Anna Vignoles, professor of education at the University of Cambridge and another of the authors, said: “Shutting down schools has impacted all children but the worst effects will be felt by those from lower socio-economic groups and with other vulnerabilities, such as a pre-existing mental health condition.”

Children from low income households were more likely to lack the home support needed to engage with remote teaching during lockdown, while those with pre-existing conditions were more likely to experience worsening mental health, Vignoles said.

The national governments in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have already announced measures to help schools and pupils catch up, but they vary greatly in policies and funding.

John Swinney, the education secretary for Scotland, on Thursday announced that 850 more teachers and around 200 support staff would be hired for when schools reopen after the summer. In England, the government has allocated £1bn for catch-up efforts to be spent in the next school year, including £350m for a new national tutoring programme.

Burgess said governments should only consider closing schools as a last resort. Schools should be supplied with additional resources, including personal protective equipment for staff and older students to avoid further transmission, to help them stay open, while governments should implement effective community monitoring linked to a workable “test, trace, isolate” system to curb outbreaks.

A separate study by the University of Southampton found that children from the most advantaged families, with access to digital devices and with parents working from home, spent longer on school work during lockdown than their peers in less advantaged households.

Advantaged primary pupils spent on average 2.9 hours a day and secondary pupils 3.8 hours day on school work. But those with shared access to devices and a parent working outside the home only worked for 2.3 and 2.6 hours respectively.

The study used data taken from a longitudinal survey of 3,000 UK school-age children in April, when schools across the country were closed to all but vulnerable pupils and children of essential workers.