Today’s big question

Lost learning: does the post-pandemic education plan go far enough?

Extra £1.4bn added to government education recovery fund – but experts say much more will be needed

The government is planning to spend an extra £1.4bn on education over three years, to help children and young people across England to catch up after falling behind during the pandemic.

The plan – which takes the government’s total catch-up funding to date to £3.1bn – includes 100 million hours of free tuition for disadvantaged pupils and extra training for teachers and early-years staff. 

Plans to add 30 minutes to the school day, first reported by The Times on 1 June, following a leaked presentation of a report, have not yet been confirmed but were not included in the £1.4bn top-up initiatives. 

In her final speech as England's children's commissioner earlier this year, Anne Longfield spoke of the harm this time out of school has caused students. “We must be honest about the scale of the challenge and face the tough questions about the gaps that we know exist. How many children are in families that are struggling to support them; how many are starting school so far behind they’ll never catch up; how many children with mental health needs or special education needs aren’t getting the help they should be?” she asked. 

A recent report, which assessed more than 6,000 primary schools representing 1.47 million pupils, found that it is the youngest students whose learning has been worst affected by the pandemic. Disadvantaged pupils have also been disproportionately affected; the report found that by summer 2020, just 43% of primary-years disadvantaged pupils had met age-related expectations for reading compared to 63% of non-disadvantaged groups. 

Education experts and campaigners have insisted that the extra funding is not enough to help children catch up on more than a year of disrupted schooling. Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, described the news of the top-up as a “hugely disappointing announcement which lets down the nation’s children and schools at a time when the government needed to step up and demonstrate its commitment to education”.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, described the amount as falling “well short of the comprehensive package of support that is required to ensure that no young person is left behind by Covid”, the global education company Tes reports.

Even the government’s own education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, has warned that “more will be needed to meet the scale of the challenge”, The Guardian reports. Collins is believed to have recommended a spend of £15bn on education in February – about five times higher than the government’s proposed total spend.

Appearing on Sky News today, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson defended the budget. “We are building up a whole set of interventions including the £1.7 billion which has already been committed, complemented by the £1.4 billion,” he said. “These are all measures which are going to have a direct impact on children and the amount of tutoring that children are going to get.”

But, he added, “we recognise that there is more work to be done and this is part of a process, which is why we’re launching the review into how best we can support children in terms of their schooling”.

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