Children in the U.K. could lose £40,000 ($54,897) in earnings over their lifetime as a result of missing half a year in school due to coronavirus lockdowns, a study has found.
British research body the Institute for Fiscal Studies said in a report released Monday that by the February "half-term" break, most children across the U.K. will have missed around half a year of in-person schooling. That is the likely to be the equivalent of more than 5% of their entire time in school, said IFS Research Fellow Luke Sibieta, who authored the report.
The U.K. is currently in its third coronavirus lockdown, which the government imposed in the first week of January, in an attempt to combat a winter surge in cases of Covid-19. This has included the closure of schools, except to the children of key workers.
While it is still unclear when this round of public health restrictions will end, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested schools could start to re-open from March 8.
The vast majority of children in the U.K. have spent most of the past school year being homeschooled, since Britain's first coronavirus lockdown was implemented in March last year. The re-opening and closing of schools in that time has been the subject of much debate, in terms of trying to find a balance between curbing the potential increased spread of the coronavirus, with the knock-on effect on children's education and wellbeing.
The IFS's Sibieta cited research that found on average a year of schooling increased a person's earnings by 8% per year, across advanced and high-income countries.
Based on someone earning £1 million over their lifetime, Sibieta said that losing at least half a year of face-to-face learning, could therefore work out to a £40,000 loss in earnings over the course of their career.
This equated to a total £350 billion in lost lifetime earnings across the 8.7 million school children in the U.K., he said.
"Without sufficient catch-up, children will leave school with less knowledge and skills that can be applied in their job or a lower ability to gain further skills," Sibieta said.
"Even much weaker assumptions about the returns to schooling still result in enormous estimated costs," he added.
There would still be a total earnings loss of nearly £90 billion, Sibieta said, even if 75% of the long-run effects of learning loss were mitigated.
This loss of learning time would also not affect all children equally, he said, with remote learning having been harder for younger kids and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Sibieta also argued that the £1.5 billion governments across the U.K. had so far allocated towards helping children catch up on their education was not enough. He calculated that half a year's worth of day-to-day school spending across the U.K. worked out to over £30 billion.
In addition, Sibieta said that there needed to be more resources focused on increasing learning time or the quality of learning time. He worked out that the £250 million in subsidies to schools to use the U.K.'s National Tutoring Programme could only buy about six hours of tuition for 1.4 million disadvantaged students.
"We therefore need to think of big and radical ways to increase learning time," Sibieta said, which could include "extending the school year, lengthening the school day, mass repetition of whole school years or summer schools."