Covid-19: School catch-up plans in 'damp squib' funding row

Catch-up plans worth £1.4bn for school pupils in England have been accused of being a “damp squib” by head teachers.

The funding will mostly be spent on tutoring sessions to make up for learning lost in the pandemic.

But the plans are much more limited than the £13.5bn which the Education Policy Institute (EPI) had calculated would be required.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We will do everything we can to support children who have fallen behind.”

Tutor sessions

The catch-up plan, with £1.4bn extra over three years in addition to the £1.7bn already announced, will include £1bn for 100 million hours of tutoring and £250m for teacher training and development.

Tutoring will be targeted at those considered most in need of support, often provided in small groups, but it will not be an entitlement for all pupils.

The EPI, which warned primary pupils had lost up to two months of learning in reading and three months in maths, said the extra funding amounted to £50 per pupil per year – a tenth of what it estimated was needed.

There had been reports the recovery plan would be much bigger and include a longer school day – but funding for any further catch-up proposals will now depend on the next spending review.

But Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that an extended school day was “very much still on the agenda”.

Asked about whether the funding was less than required, Mr Williamson said the catch-up plan was based on the evidence of what works – and that tutoring “does actually deliver” and should not be the “preserve of a few”.

media captionEducation Secretary Gavin Williamson: ‘Strong case’ for longer school days

He said the £1.4bn was a “pretty hefty amount” and would “have a direct impact on children”.

Suggestions of shorter summer holidays were no longer being considered, said the education secretary.

The BBC has learned a much bigger and more ambitious plan costing just over £10bn was still under discussion between government departments as recently as last week, but this was rejected by the Treasury.

Sources close to the talks said the Treasury was reluctant to sign off on such a big upfront commitment.

In response, a Whitehall source said: “Together with DfE [Department for Education] we will work out what exactly is needed in terms of extra time for children’s catch up – as well as what teachers and parents think is best and will work too.

image captionAt St Wilfrid’s in Crawley students had wanted more “certainty” rather than longer hours and extra initiatives

“It’s right for both children and the taxpayer that we know what we’re buying before we spend.”

The prime minister announced the school funding as the “next step in our long-term catch up plan”.

“Young people have sacrificed so much over the last year and as we build back from the pandemic, we must make sure that no child is left behind,” said Mr Johnson.

‘Funding battle’

But Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union, said the government’s response was “hugely disappointing” and “shows a failure to recognise the scale of learning loss”.

“There has obviously been a battle behind the scenes over funding for education recovery,” said Mr Barton – with a settlement much lower than anticipated.

The dropping of plans for an extended school day would not have been seen as much as a loss to students at St Wilfrid’s Catholic school in Crawley, West Sussex.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *