On a continent famous for its welfare systems, school closures threaten to widen divisions of education, ethnicity and class. Compared with the rest of the world, Europe has not done badly during the pandemic. Most of its schools reopened in the autumn, while in South America and South Asia they largely stayed shut. But covid-19’s second wave has forced many European schools to close again.

This hurts all pupils, but it hits the poor and vulnerable ones harder. France’s education ministry says that last spring’s lockdown increased the gap in exam scores between normal schools and ones in hard-up areas by several points. In Germany, that first lockdown cut studying time from 7.4 hours per day to 3.6. An analysis of last year’s national exam results in the Netherlands came up with the depressing finding that during the spring lockdown the average pupil had learned nothing at all. Those whose parents were poorly educated did even worse: they emerged from their first two months of schooling by internet knowing less than when they started.