Boris Johnson’s £1bn plan to help pupils catch up with learning has come under fire from education leaders.
Head teachers say they weren’t consulted on the details of the proposed scheme. It will give the most disadvantaged children in England access to funds to pay for tutors, while the majority of the funding will be shared across schools to help pupils from all backgrounds affected by the lockdown.
College and nursery leaders have criticised the government for leaving their pupils out. This came after the government announced that for the 2020-21 academic year, £650m will only go to state primary and secondary schools. A further £350m will be spent on a one-year subsidised national tutoring programme targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils in schools.
But sector leaders say the funding won’t reach young children in nurseries and college students who are most “in need of support” amid the pandemic. It came as the UK’s chief medical officers agreed to downgrade the coronavirus alert level from four to three, after a “steady” and continuing decrease in cases in all four nations.
Localised outbreaks of coronavirus are still “likely” to occur, the advisers warned, and the virus remains in general circulation. But the downgrading – recommended by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) – means transmission of coronavirus is no longer considered to be “high or rising exponentially”.
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said it was “indefensible” to overlook the needs of students in tens of thousands of colleges across the country. Meanwhile, Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), has accused the government of failing young children “who are most in need of support in their early development”.
David Laws, executive chair of the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank, added that the catch-up plan was “poorly targeted” and unlikely to prevent a large increase in the disadvantage gap. The former Liberal Democrat minister added:
We are also concerned that there seems to be no extra financial support for early years or sixth form students – these phases are crucially important, yet they have suffered from persistent funding neglect over a sustained period of time.
Schools minister Nick Gibb has said it was the government’s “clear intention” to have all children back in schools across England by September. He said the funding for schools will begin to be distributed from the start of the academic year.
Concerns have also been raised about the ability of some schools to pay towards the tutoring scheme amid funding pressures already facing them. Head teachers will have the discretion to decide on how the catch-up funding is spent.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), added that it was “frustrating” that the union hadn’t been involved in any discussions ahead of the government announcement.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said:
If social distancing is still required in September, a full-time return to education means Government will have to find extra education staff and extra teaching spaces.
The Government must urgently engage with unions and others in the sector to plan for such a return.
Speaking on Sky News, Gibb said the government wants to ensure that no pupils face any long-term detriment to their education as a result of coronavirus. He added:
We are working with the school sector, we’re taking advice and we give schools plenty of notice in time to plan for that reopening in September.
Of course, we’re working on other contingency plans but the clear intention is that we’ll have all children back in school in September.
EPI's Executive Chair, David Laws, has commented on the Department for Education's "catch up" package announced today pic.twitter.com/Fwq6VX2VfG
— EPI (@EduPolicyInst) June 19, 2020
Meanwhile, on Thursday 18 June the government was forced into an embarrassing U-turn over its tracing app, announcing that it was ditching ambitions to develop its own software. It will instead work with tech giants Apple and Google on a new, improved design.
Hancock said developers had been working on both the app created by the NHS’s digital arm, NHSX, and the design offered by Apple and Google since May. But the NHSX app had hit a “technical barrier” during testing on the Isle of Wight.
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