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Nadhim Zahawi Admits Government Must "Do Better" In Secondary School Catch-Up Learning

3 min read

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has said he believes the government needs to “do better” with post-pandemic catch-up learning in secondary schools.

But Zahawi said he is determined to use £7 billion of allocated government funding to ensure “every school in our country is high performing”. 

“I will always be data-driven [and] evidence-driven,” he told Sky News this morning.

“I will evaluate, and I will look how far we’ve got. We’re doing well on primary school reading and maths catch-up; we need to do better on secondary. 

“There’s no point having an arms race [on] how much can I announce on spending. I’ve got to make sure it’s actually working in the system.”

This morning the government released its long-awaited Schools White Paper, setting out new standards targets and processes for helping pupils who have fallen behind in their learning as a result of school closures during lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. 

By September 2023 schools will be required to offer a of minimum 32.5 hours teaching per week in order to make up for lost lessons.

By 2030 90% of primary school children will be expected to achieve target standards in Key Stage 2 reading, writing and maths. Only 65% of pupils met this target in 2019.

For secondary schools, government aims to see the national average for GCSE grades in English and maths increase from 4.5 in 2019 to 5 by 2030. 

Structurally, by the same year, all schools will be expected to be part of or in the process of joining a multi-academy trust. 

“It’s a real ambitious target to make sure every school in our country is high performing in a family of schools working together,” Zahawi told Sky News.

“I want the system to work for every child, wherever they are, at the right place at the right time.” 

Responding to Zahawi’s plans to tackle learning hours lost to the pandemic, Sir Alan Wood, who co-wrote the Covid Schools Recovery Plan which estimated that £15bn was needed to execute catch-up plans, said more funding is required. 

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Wood said although there has been “some recovery” a “lack of additional resources means that recovery has been held back significantly”. 

Wood highlighted the government’s tuition programme as an area that was “beginning to improve” but was then “tendered out”. 

“Recovery will happen most effectively when schools are given their own resources and make their own arrangements,” Wood said. 

Data published today shows that in Autumn 2021, the average primary pupil was 1.9 months behind in maths compared to 2.8 months in summer.

In reading pupils were 0.8 months behind in Autumn 2021 compared to 0.9 months in summer. 

“It’s important that we get the foundations right, which is why part of the White Paper is focused on numeracy and literacy,” Zahawi told BBC Breakfast.

“But [it’s] also about a knowledge rich curriculum,” the education secretary added. 

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