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Coronavirus: Government urged to expand support for vulnerable pupils as three-quarters of teachers warn of lack of engagement

Coronavirus: Government urged to expand support for vulnerable pupils as three-quarters of teachers warn of lack of engagement

The NFER’s report comes after Boris Johnson announced a £1bn coronavirus “catch-up” fund. (Image: PA)

3 min read

Ministers must do more to re-engage vulnerable children in education as schools remain shut because of the coronavirus pandemic, a new report has warned.

According to the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), three in every five teachers reported that vulnerable pupils were less engaged than their classmates.

And 75% claimed that a lack of pupil engagement in learning was one of their main challenges in supporting vulnerable pupils who were not attending school.

The survey of 3,000 school leaders and teachers also found that three-quarters of schools were now offering social or welfare support to children, such as food parcels or non-education related advice. 

It comes after Boris Johnson announced a £1bn coronavirus “catch-up” fund last week in a bid to tackle the impact of lost teaching time on England’s young people.

The initiative was welcomed by Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, which funded the NFER’s research.

But he warned that broader support was needed for the most disadvantaged children to prevent them from falling behind their peers.

Mr Hillman said: “It is of great concern that the most vulnerable students have been the least engaged in learning during the pandemic, particularly those from schools in the most disadvantaged areas. 

“We welcome the Government’s catch-up plan, but if the initiative is to successfully close the ever-widening disadvantage gap, it is vital to re-engage disadvantaged pupils with learning and give particular support to those entering primary schools.”

Meanwhile, NFER chief executive Carole Willis said there was a need for more community-based initiatives to support the most disadvantaged families. 

“Today’s report shows how schools and their staff have taken the initiative in increasing the welfare support provided to vulnerable pupils,” she said. 

“Given that impacts from the pandemic are likely to persist for some time, there is a need for schools to have increased levels of external support to ensure they can focus their resources on teaching and learning.”

Ms Willis added: “The recent Government announcement of additional support to enable children to catch-up is welcome. 

“However, policymakers should also specifically look at initiatives to help vulnerable pupils re-engage with learning and ensure there is adequate support for their health and wellbeing, including through social workers and other community initiatives. 

“It will be crucial to increase their engagement and to support their parents to provide a secure and safe environment.”

A previous study by the NFER, published last week, found that teachers in England’s schools report being in regular contact with just 60% of their pupils, while less than half (42 percent) had reportedly returned their last piece of set work. 

School leaders meanwhile said they believed that around a third of pupils (between 29 and 27%) “are not engaging with set work at all”.

The study also highlighted the digital divide between England’s most and least deprived schools after months of closures.

Ninety-three percent of school leaders in the most deprived schools say they have some pupils “with limited access to IT at home” for remote learning, compared to 73% of school leaders in the least deprived ones. 

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

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