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Impact of missed English lessons during pandemic

Students, parents and teachers around the world are concerned about the consequences of the pandemic on education. A recent study by Holga Hopp, at the University of Braunschweig, and Dieter Thoma, at the University of Mannheim, asked whether English-language learning in German primary schools had been affected by school closures.

Hopp and Thoma compared the vocabulary and grammar test scores of nine-year-olds from the 4th grade of four German primary schools. They compared improvement in test scores taken at the beginning of the school year (September), March and June/July during the 2018-2019 academic year with those of test scores from 2019-2020.

The 15-week period in spring 2020 included seven weeks when schools were completely closed, followed by eight weeks where the usual two 45-minute English classes per week were generally co-opted to work on core subjects, such as German and maths.

They found that the progress made, as indicated by improved test scores, was remarkably similar for the two year groups.

Hopp and Thoma investigated further, for example, whether weaker students were more affected than stronger students.

“Despite school closures, weaker students were not disadvantaged by missing 

Generally, students with weaker scores made greater gains on the next test and, crucially, this trend continued over the spring of 2020 despite school closures, meaning weaker students were not disadvantaged by missing the lessons.

Research generally supports the intuitive assumption that there is a point where missed instruction becomes detrimental, yet students of all ages have some capacity to consolidate and improve without input or even conscious practice – and this may account for the improved scores despite missing 15 weeks of English classes.

While these results are reassuring for students, teachers and parents alike, the lack of impact of school closures on scores could also suggest that a programme of two English lessons per week is barely tapping the potential for language learning for these children.


  • Hopp, H. and Thoma, D. 2020. ‘Foreign Language Development During Temporary School Closures in the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic.’ Frontiers in Education 5:601017. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2020.601017
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Gill Ragsdale
Gill Ragsdale
Gill has a PhD in Evolutionary Psychology from Cambridge, and teaches Psychology with the Open University, but also holds an RSA-Cert TEFL. Gill has taught EFL in the UK, Turkey, Egypt and to the refugees in the Calais 'Jungle' in France. She currently teaches English to refugees in the UK.
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