Lockdown stretched the learning gap for disadvantaged pupils to ‘a gulf’

Children in a classroom

The learning gap between financially disadvantaged and better off pupils in England “has become a gulf”, a leading educator has warned.

Falling behind

Oasis Community Learning founder Steve Chalke says recent research suggests disadvantaged children fell further behind during the lockdown than more affluent pupils. Oasis is responsible for 31,500 children at 52 academies across England. Now Chalke is calling on the government to treble the pupil premium funding used to boost the education of the nation’s most disadvantaged pupils.

Chalke told the BBC:

Government should respond to the need before it causes irrevocable damage by trebling this funding, at least over the next three years, and focusing it on children living in persistent poverty and facing long-term disadvantage.

It is vital that Government makes this move now, to ensure that a generation of children, already disadvantaged before the Covid-19 lockdown but whose situations have deteriorated even further, are not completely abandoned, doomed to spend their lives struggling for opportunities their peers will have ready access to, rather than flourishing.

Chalke also called for a boost to the government’s National Tutoring Programme.

He told the broadcaster the funding for the scheme, which is aimed at helping disadvantaged pupils catch up after lockdown, “is far too little”. He also went on to say that it doesn’t do enough to address the “aching long-term need to narrow the disadvantage gap”.

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Lost time

In a statement to the BBC, the Department for Education (DfE) claimed the classroom was the best place for disadvantaged pupils to be, where the government’s £1bn coronavirus (Covid-19) catch-up package was “tackling the impact of lost teaching time”.

The statement said this includes £350m for less affluent pupils through the National Tutoring Programme, “which is in addition to our £2.4bn pupil premium to improve these pupils’ attainment and outcomes”.

A spokesperson added:

Head teachers and school leaders are best placed to make decisions about their pupils and which of them need the most support.

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