Government faces demand for £1bn 'catch-up' fund for schoolchildren affected by pandemic

8 December 2020, 00:59 | Updated: 8 December 2020, 01:00

Labour is demanding a £1bn schools funding to help kids catch up with lessons
Labour is demanding a £1bn schools funding to help kids catch up with lessons. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

The Government must create a £1 billion fund to help pupils in England catch up with lost learning time due to the coronavirus pandemic, Labour has said.

The demand is being made after analysis from the party suggests just one in six - or 17% - of schoolchildren eligible for free school meals will benefit from the Government's current scheme to get them back up to speed.

Shadow schools minister Wes Streeting said ministers need to "get a grip" to ensure no pupil misses out on support after months of school closures.

The plea came as analysis from Labour suggested just one in six (17%) pupils eligible for free school meals - around 250,000 children - will benefit from the Government's scheme to help them catch up on lost learning.

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It also suggests only 55% of spending for the Government's national tutoring programme (NTP) has been allocated this year.

It comes after Boris Johnson announced a £1 billion plan to help students in England make up lost learning time following months of school closures.

In June, the Prime Minister said £350 million would be spent on the NTP over the 2020-21 academic year to help the most disadvantaged pupils between the ages of five and 16.

An additional £650 million will be shared across schools this year to help children from all backgrounds who have lost teaching time.

Labour is calling on the Government to make sure the £350 million for the NTP will not be stretched over two academic years.

The subsidised scheme for schools in England seeking tuition for the children worst affected by months of closures opened last month, with the first wave of 188 academic mentors starting catch-up support.

The Department for Education (DfE) has said it expects to place around 1,000 academic mentors, with the remainder starting in the spring term.

Labour has warned these plans would be too late for many pupils sitting exams in 2021.

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Mr Streeting said: "It is completely unacceptable that the Government's plans will see the vast majority of pupils in most need of help unable to get additional tuition to make up for the learning they have lost

"The Government is failing to support the children who need it the most, and breaking promises to parents and schools about the funding that will be available.

"Ministers must urgently get a grip, bring this additional funding forward, and ensure that no pupil misses out on the support they need."

The warning comes after DfE figures last week revealed that 17% of pupils were absent from class on November 26 - and up to 798,000 did not attend school for Covid-19-related reasons.

Schoolchildren have missed weeks of school due to Covid-19
Schoolchildren have missed weeks of school due to Covid-19. Picture: PA Images

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: "National tutoring programme tutors are only partially funded by Government, and this year's catch-up premium is allocated on a per-pupil basis.

"This means that catch-up funding will take account of the size of the school, but is unlikely to reflect the scale of the challenges faced. The fear is that schools serving the most deprived communities may well find that the Covid top-up does not stretch very far.

"For tutoring to have a real impact in the schools that would most benefit from it, a sustained commitment from Government would be needed with increased investment far beyond this year."

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Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "The maths isn't difficult to work out. Schools are being hammered financially by the pandemic and the Government isn't giving them anywhere near enough support."

A DfE spokeswoman said: "Our £1 billion Covid catch-up package is helping tackle the impact of lost teaching time as a result of the pandemic, including a £650 million catch-up premium for this academic year to help schools support all pupils and a £350 million national tutoring programme for disadvantaged students.

"Extending the national tutoring programme to run for two years will allow more tutoring to be rolled out across the country and be more beneficial to the children and young people who need the most support to catch up."