Extra tuition for pupils and option to repeat a year as part of £1.4bn plan

2 June 2021, 00:07 | Updated: 2 June 2021, 14:13

  • Tutoring sessions promised to help pupils catch up after Covid crisis
  • Plans will cost £1.4bn over three years
  • Teachers have criticised proposals as “damp squib” and “hugely disappointing”
  • Labour says education recovery plan would cost closer to £15bn

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The Government has announced a multimillion-pound catch-up programme for school pupils who have faced disruption due to Covid-19 in England, however critics say the plans do not go nearly far enough.

The Department for Education (DfE) announced an additional £1.4 billion of funding – in addition to £1.7 billion already pledged for catch-up - to help children make up for lost learning following months of school closures. However the amount of money needed for catch-up measures has been said to be as high as £15bn.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson declined to say on LBC this morning whether he pressed the Treasury for more money for the pupil catch-up programme. Speaking to Nick Ferrari, Mr Williamson said the cash is "part of a process" of recovery.

As part of the package, up to 100 million hours of tuition are being offered while some Year 13 students will be given the option to repeat their final year if they have been badly affected by Covid.

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Schools and colleges will be funded by the DfE to help accommodate the additional student numbers.

But education unions have criticised the package, with one school leaders' union boss warning the announcement "lets down the nation's children".

It was announced as Labour published its two-year £14.7 billion education recovery plan, which called for extracurricular activities to be expanded and mental health support in schools to be improved.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said the Government's scheme "makes a mockery of the Prime Minister's claim that education is a priority".

The DfE programme includes £1 billion to support up to six million, 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged pupils, as well as an expansion of the 16-19 tuition fund targeting subjects such as maths and English.

A further £400 million will go towards providing high-quality training to early years practitioners and school teachers to ensure children progress.

The announcement - made during the half-term - does not include plans to lengthen the school day, or shorten the summer break.

The Government's education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, is still considering long-term proposals to address the impact of Covid on children.

Sir Kevan said: "The investments in teaching quality and tutoring announced today offer evidence-based support to a significant number of our children and teachers. But more will be needed to meet the scale of the challenge."

The DfE said the next stage will include a review of time spent in school and college and the impact this could have on helping young people. The findings will be set out later in the year to inform the spending review.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "This next step in our long-term catch-up plan should give parents confidence that we will do everything we can to support children who have fallen behind and that every child will have the skills and knowledge they need to fulfil their potential."

Mr Williamson added: "The package will not just go a long way to boost children's learning in the wake of the disruption caused by the pandemic but also help bring back down the attainment gap that we've been working to eradicate."

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), suggested that there had been a battle behind the scenes over funding for education recovery between the Treasury and the DfE as the "settlement is less than a tenth of the £15 billion that was being mooted".

He said: "This is a hugely disappointing announcement which lets down the nation's children and schools at a time when the Government needed to step up and demonstrate its commitment to education.

"The sum of £1.4 billion may sound like a big figure but it is divided into many different pots, has to be distributed across thousands of schools and millions of pupils, and the delivery processes outlined in the announcement seem incredibly complicated."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union the NAHT, said: "The funding announced to back these plans is paltry compared to the amounts other countries have invested, or even compared to government spending on business recovery measures during the pandemic."

Mr Whiteman did add that the union was relieved to see that extending the school day had been "shelved for now" as he warned the policy could reduce family time and leave less time for extracurricular activities.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: "Where in these plans is the funding for extracurricular activities to support children and young people to regain their confidence in their abilities and talents? Where is the funding for drama and music, sport and skills development?" 

Some £218 million of the additional £1 billion for tutoring will be directed through the Government's flagship National Tutoring Programme (NTP).

But schools will also be able to develop local tutoring provision using new or existing school staff through a £579 million fund.

The DfE said Randstad will be the new supplier of the NTP from September 2021 and they will be supported by Teach First.