New Research From Pearson Finds 1.5 Million Children in England Have Difficulty Engaging in Learning

Pearson’s School Report 2024 highlights a focus on staff, digital and diverse solutions to support growing concerns over pupil disengagement

LONDON--()--At least 1.5 million children a week are struggling to engage in learning according to a new report released today by Pearson (FTSE: PSON.L) – the world’s leading learning company.

Now in its third year, the Pearson School Report – which brings together the views of over 12,000 teachers, students and education sector experts – revealed that in the week asked, 97% of classroom teachers witnessed children and young people having difficulty engaging with their learning.

Based on the percentage of students whom teachers identified as having difficulty engaging, the numbers, which could exceed 1.5 million and be as high as 3.5 million, represent a growing concern amongst educators across the country. Indeed, in the past year, almost six in 10 teachers (57%) have become increasingly concerned about pupil disengagement.

The findings show that the issue is more significant in secondary schools, with around half of teachers asked (47%) saying that over a quarter of their students had difficulties engaging (compared to 37% of primary). A staggering one in eight (13%) secondary school teachers felt this was affecting as many as 75% of their students.

What students say

Whilst seven in 10 learners surveyed (68%) shared their enjoyment of school, a similar number (73%) admitted that they struggled to engage in lessons and one in five (19%) shared that they struggled ‘a lot’. Among the top five things students said impacted their learning are a lack of understanding (45%), not feeling clever enough (30%), feeling unwell (23%), struggling to engage in the same way as classmates (21%), and being hungry (17%).

Embracing opportunities

With the challenges schools face in mind, teachers suggested that a range of diverse and digital solutions could be introduced to combat pupil disengagement.

When asked what would support student engagement, additional staff to support pupils topped the list (identified by 85% of teachers). Other suggested solutions included:

  • Making curriculum content relevant to students' lives (64%)
  • Additional vocational/hands-on learning options (57%)
  • Access to diverse resources and texts (46%)
  • Increased use of digital tools (38%) and devices (39%)
  • Enhanced access to extracurricular activities (47%) and clubs (44%)
  • Focusing on life skills (54%)

Students also said similar with over a quarter noting access to digital devices (21%) and extracurricular activities (29%) as elements that had helped their learning. What stood out the most however, was the support from teachers – with over half of all students (51%) saying support from their teacher had helped their learning in the past year or two. Over a quarter also referenced the work of support staff (26%).

Making an impact

What’s clear from the research is that teachers are really rising to the challenge and going the extra mile to help students engage. Feedback on solutions being implemented in schools include focusing on and adapting content so that it’s relevant to their students’ lives today, utilising digital tools to record and stream lessons to support different learning styles as well as providing the opportunity for absent students to catch up on missed lessons.

One secondary teacher spoke proudly of: “the moment when a disillusioned teen sat with me and said ‘Ok, now I’m ready to learn’, having refused to properly engage for weeks, and was then able to sit with me and explain what that looked like and set targets.”

Another said their reason for seeking new solutions was: “when dealing with very vulnerable students with difficult lives, letting them see something different and helping them to see themselves differently, with merit and purpose. But every day, just trying to make school a positive experience for young people who don't want to be there.”

Speaking about the findings, Sharon Hague, Managing Director, School Assessment and Qualifications at Pearson, said: “While the challenges raised in our findings may seem stark at times, the proactivity and positivity of educators in seeking solutions and making a difference shine through. But they cannot do this alone. Whether it’s teachers innovating with digital resources, diverse content or adapting content so that it’s relevant to students lives today, we need to listen to what works and share that success far and wide.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to education. Through our own pilots and wider research, we have seen the staggering difference technology and adaptations are making to students. We are committed to sharing the voices of students, school staff and those in the sector as we strive to play our part in engaging this generation and those to come.”

Carl Ward, Chair of the Foundation for Education Development (FED) concluded: “By listening to those directly involved in the education system, we can develop strategies that resonate with students’ needs and experiences whilst ensuring the system is tailored to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities of our changing world.”

To see what else teachers and students had to say about education in 2024 – from challenges and opportunities to solutions and aspirations for the future - view the Pearson School Report.

About Pearson

At Pearson, our purpose is simple: to add life to a lifetime of learning. We believe that every learning opportunity is a chance for a personal breakthrough. That’s why our c.18,000 Pearson employees are committed to creating vibrant and enriching learning experiences designed for real-life impact. We are the world’s leading digital media learning company, serving customers in nearly 200 countries with digital content, assessments, qualifications, and data. For us, learning isn’t just what we do. It’s who we are. Visit us at

About the research

Pearson commissioned a nationally representative external survey of primary and secondary educators* between 20/03/24 and 13/04/24 to capture their views. Between, 6,932 and 10,015 responded to the questions. Responses were collected by the polling organisation Teacher Tapp and weighted to reflect national teacher and school demographics.

Student research was also conducted by Censuswide between 23.04.2024 - 29.04.2024 with 1,003 primary school children (aged 7–11 years) and 1,002 secondary school children (aged 11–16 years). Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.