Children from wealthier families are spending 30% more time on home learning during coronavirus lockdown compared with the poorest, new research has suggested.
The survey of more than 4,000 families in England, carried out for the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), found better-off children will have studied for around seven days more than their poorer peers by next month, when some children could return to school.
If schools do not go back until September and current rates of home learning continue, the gap would double to 15 full school days.
Ministers have said some primary school pupils in England should be able to go back to school from 1 June.
But the latest research has suggested there could be a gap in education, with some pupils doing more lockdown learning than others.
Children in the highest-income families are typically spending six hours a day on education, but the poorest just four and a half.
Nearly two in three (64%) of secondary pupils in state schools from the richest households are offered some form of active help, compared with 47% from the poorest fifth of families, the study suggests.
No matter the family income, however, more than half of parents said they were finding it hard to support their children learning at home.
There also appeared to be a difference of opinions between families about whether to send children back to school next month.
Less than a third (29%) of parents in the poorest families said they would send their child back to primary school given the choice, compared with 55% of the most affluent parents.
Lucy Kraftman, IFS research economist and co-author of the report, said: “There are significant differences in how children are spending their time during school closures.
Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice
“Children in lower-income households are spending significantly less time on both schoolwork and non-school learning activities than their better-off peers.
“These differences will likely widen pre-existing gaps in test scores between children from different backgrounds.”
Researchers are now calling for the government to look at the disparities between children from different backgrounds while schools are closed.
“Children from lower-income families are already disadvantaged in educational terms, but this new research from the IFS shows that this is being compounded in various ways by being at home rather than in school during the lockdown,” says Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation.
“On average, these children are spending less time on educational activity, have poorer access to technology, educational resources and extra support, and less likelihood of a quiet dedicated working space in the home.
“The government needs to address these issues, both during the period of lockdown and when pupils start to return to schools bringing this additional disadvantage with them.”
In its COVID-19 recovery strategy, Downing Street said it currently expects reception, year one and year six pupils to return in smaller class sizes from 1 June at the earliest.
This has been condemned by teaching unions, with the government still recording hundreds of coronavirus deaths every day.
Meanwhile, an online petition calling for parents to be given the option not to send their children back has gathered 500,000 signatures.