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Post-Covid £1.4bn School Recovery Package Is A Tenth Of What's Needed, Education Leaders Say

Post-Covid £1.4bn School Recovery Package Is A Tenth Of What's Needed, Education Leaders Say

The extra funding will be used to run small tutoring groups to help pupils catch up (Alamy)

5 min read

Gavin Williamson has been accused of recovery “on the cheap” after announcing £1.4 billion in funding for post-Covid tutoring in schools, which teachers and unions claim is “way below” what’s needed.

Many have pointed to a presentation by the government’s education recovery tsar Sir Kevan Collins, leaked to The Times, which advised ministers that around £15 billion extra funding was needed to support pupil catch-up as a result of teaching missed during the pandemic.

The slides warned that failing to deliver this package could cost the economy between £100 billion and £1.5 trillion through lost learning.

The National Education Union’s (NEU) joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said the government’s proposed £1.4 billion funding was “inadequate and incomplete”. 

“Rarely has so much been promised and so little delivered,” Bousted said. 

"The Treasury has shown, in this paltry offer, that it does not understand, nor does it appreciate, the essential foundation laid by education for the nation’s economic recovery. 

“Its failure, on this scale, to fund what is needed for education recovery, is a scar which will take generations of children and young people to heal.  They, their parents and our nation deserve much better than this." Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, described the funding announcement as “paltry” and a “damp squib”, accusing the government of trying to do education recovery “on the cheap”.

“After weeks of talking big and building expectations for education recovery, this announcement only confirms the government's lack of ambition for education,” he said.

“It’s a damp squib – some focus in a couple of the right areas is simply not enough.

“The funding announced to back these plans is paltry compared to the amounts other countries have invested, or even compared to government spending on business recovery measures during the pandemic.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, suggested that there had been a battle over funding between the Treasury and the Department for Education which the former had won.

“This is 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,” he said.“The amount of money that the government plans to put into education recovery is insufficient and shows a failure to recognise the scale of learning loss experienced by many pupils during the pandemic – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Barton believed there had been a "battle behind the scenes" with the Treasury over how much funding was allocated, which had resulted in a fraction of the £15 billion that was apparently being mooted.

“The announcement has then been snuck out in half term presumably with the hope that it won’t attract too much attention,” he said. 

Last month, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) also recommended that between £10 billion and £15 billion would be needed to reverse the effects of lockdown on pupils’ education.

“A final settlement which fails to meet this level would not only let down millions of young people, but could also spell serious consequences for the future economy,” Natalie Perera, chief executive of the EPI, said.

But the education secretary defended the package on Wednesday, insisting that "targeted intervention around English and maths" could help catch up between three and five months of lost learning. 

"This is part of a process, part of our plan," he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

"It's quite unprecedented to get this quantum of money outside the spending review.” 

He explained that it was because of the recognition that the Government needed to make "interventions and support and invest in children immediately".

But Williamson hinted that more money could be coming in the future, adding that the Autumn spending review later this year would be an opportunity to "go further".

He dismissed claims that the funding was too small an amount. "Maybe this is being a Yorkshireman, but I always thought £1.4 billion was a pretty hefty amount," Williamson said. 

Around £1 billion of the new fund will go towards boosting small group tutoring for children who have fallen behind, fed via the National Tutoring Programme and directly through schools.

The remaining £400m will be targeted at giving school teachers and early years staff more training and support.Writing for The Telegraph, Williamson said: “This is a marathon, not a sprint. We must support pupils as they catch up on the learning that they have lost.”

“Tutoring is something that for a long time has been the preserve of the more affluent families – the thing that you did if you wanted to give your child additional help with something they were struggling with at school, or push them further to give them the edge in exams or with university applications.”

There are also plans to allow some Year 13 students the option to repeat a year.

However, proposals to shorten the summer holidays to allow for more teaching appear to have been scrapped.

"We wouldn't be looking at taking an amount of time away from holidays, but we have been looking at the structure of the school year,” Williamson told the BBC. 

“At the moment that’s not something we’re progressing, but the key focus that we want to do is how the structure of the day best serves pupils."

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