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Fri, 4 December 2020

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By Kieran Lyons
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The Government is failing to support pupils disadvantaged by school closures

The Government is failing to support pupils disadvantaged by school closures

Alongside the NHS and the economy, education at every level, from early years to saving our Higher Education institutions, should have been a national priority, says Lord Blunkett | Credit: PA Images

4 min read

Education at every level, from early years to saving our Higher Education institutions, should be a national priority throughout this crisis

Just as you think that the government are at last doing the right thing, you have to think again!

Yes, I'm talking about the £1 billion package the government announced last week for a 1% funding rise to schools in England and including £350 million for recovery and catch up through online mentoring. Surely all of us, whatever our politics and outlook can welcome this - I certainly can.

We've known for years, not least with the evidence from the Sutton Trust, that those with the resource to do so have been using mentors for their own children both to complement and to catch up, whilst others, who either for financial or for personal reasons do not, find that their children are disadvantaged.

Why therefore did the government manage to exclude from the programme those areas of education, which are universally understood to be crucial to narrowing the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

This is because the money allocated is ‘for schools’. Schools with a sixth form will, if they choose, be able to provide compensatory measures.

Right across the whole educational sphere, capacity is going to be a challenge and there's no ducking that.

But making it a locality programme with national guidance and support, would surely have been a great deal better than the muddle we are experiencing, not just in educational terms but in implementation. 

We already know that the much vaunted programme for delivering computers to children has, to say the very least, faltered.

Alongside the NHS and the economy, education at every level, from early years to saving our Higher Education institutions, should have been a national priority.

It is getting there but there is a long way to go and, in any case, not every home has an internet connection.

But if everyone is positive, determined to get children back as quickly as possible and preferably in July, we can make the September date by working together. 

Finding additional premises where current facilities are too small, encouraging returners to the profession where they are healthy and fit to do so. And, of course, drawing down on supply teachers who have had an extraordinarily rough time over recent months.

But of course we need creativity and imagination, professional teachers ably assisted by teaching assistants and technicians, and the use of volunteers.

That is why, in my view, the government was mistaken in not top slicing the £650 million for schools, to enhance early years provision, and provide post-16 education with the resources to help those who have lost out the first time round (for so many of them have).

I am mystified in educational terms but I am even more bewildered in terms of the politics.

Why not satisfy so many more, fulfil your commitments to narrowing the divide, recognise that what you have done has disadvantaged the north of England more than the south and London, and stop Further Education continuing as the Cinderella? 

Funding should have been a major unified national priority right from the very start.

Recovery programmes will be just as necessary for 16-19-year-olds struggling with vocational education who need to get the Maths and English to be able to progress.

Youngsters will need the tailored programmes which have recently been revamped by academics from Bristol, the London Institute, the Education Endowment Foundation and others.

I infer that this is ‘dusting down’ because 20 years ago we were very happy to learn from what was happening in New Zealand with their Reading Recovery Programme for youngsters who were falling behind. Reinventing the wheel always has to be paraded as something new.

As a trained teacher, ex Education and Employment Secretary and the father of older sons who went through further education, I have not only heard it all before, but I am also painfully aware of commitments to those most likely to lose out.

This funding should have been a major unified national priority right from the very start.

Alongside the NHS and the economy, education at every level, from early years to saving our Higher Education institutions, should have been a national priority.

It wasn't and we are where we are. But we can move together from here to do the right thing by learning, spreading best practice, and having a ‘can do’ rather than a ‘can’t do’ attitude. 

Everyone now appears to be parading the commitment to getting children back to school, to giving the education service the priority it deserves.

Forget that things were said, attitudes displayed, and obstacles thrown up all those weeks ago.

Now is the time to genuinely unite behind the endeavour to put our young people, and yes, our returners to learning, at the front of the queue.

 

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