Anne Longfield, England's former Children's Commissioner, calls for more schools catch-up funding

The former Children’s Commissioner for England has called on the Government to increase funding for the schools catch-up plan amid warnings that disadvantaged pupils in the North have been disproportionately affected than their peers in the South.

The plea comes as The Yorkshire Post this week revealed Chancellor Rishi Sunak, was present with the education recovery tsar Sir Kevin Collins - who resigned last week - before deciding to to limit a proposed £15bn of funding required to £3bn.

When approached by this newspaper the Treasury declined to set out the value for money criteria used by the Chancellor, who is the MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire, to decide on the level of funding and how this differed from the proposal submitted by Sir Kevan.

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There had been speculation last week that the Government would pledge more money but both the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Boris Johnson said that the recovery package will help close the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.

Anne Longfield, the former Children's Commissioner for England, pictured at her home in Ilkley. Photo credit: JPIMedia
Anne Longfield, the former Children's Commissioner for England, pictured at her home in Ilkley. Photo credit: JPIMedia

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Schools catch-up funding; time for answers from Rishi Sunak – The Yorkshire Post...

But Ms Longfield, 60, who lives in Ilkley, told The Yorkshire Post there was a real risk of thousands of children across the North being ‘forgotten’ due to “insufficient” funds to help children catch-up.

Ms Longfield, who has been a vocal campaigner for the rights of children in the North of England throughout her time as the Children’s Commissioner, said: “Parents know how much their children have lost out on over the last year and how much it will take for them to catch up with school work and recover from the emotional damage.

“That’s why they will be hoping that the PM changes his mind about his Government’s support for educational recovery and that he gets behind children and families with funding for extra-curricular activities, pastoral care and help in the early years.”

Pictured, Chancellor Rishi Sunak. The Yorkshire Post revealed this week Mr Sunak was present with the education recovery tsar Sir Kevin Collins - who resigned last week - before deciding to to limit a proposed £15m of funding required to £3m. Photo credit: Getty Images

Ms Longfield added: “Those families living in areas where infections have been highest, many of which are in the north, know that their children face a particular challenge.

"They need the Prime Minister to understand how much their children have suffered and be there now to provide financial support to help them catch up and get ahead.”

Northern education leaders have said there is the risk that an already widening attainment gap between pupils in the North and those in London is set to widen further because there is such a high proportion of pupils with disadvantaged backgrounds across the region.

A leading academic from Leeds said long-term investment was also needed right from birth in the region to tackle glaring education inequalities in the region that start right from a child’s birth.

Dr Catherine Davies, Associate Professor in Language Development from the University of Leeds, highlighted new research from the university which reveals a child who regularly attended two days a week during lockdown learned on average 48 more new words than those that didn’t – and the effect was more pronounced among children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Dr Davies said: “The youngest children in our education systems must not be forgotten when the government allocates funding for the COVID recovery.

“The skills and experiences that early years education nurtures in children are the foundations for success throughout their time at school and beyond.

“Significant investment must be made to ensure that children can access quality early years education and care – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds who bear the brunt of the impact.”

Dr Helen Rafferty, the interim chief executive of the Leeds-based charity SHINE, added: “Substantial long-term investment is needed to ensure that every child receives the same life chances, regardless of background or where they live.

It requires significant investment, far above what has been confirmed so far, and a fundamental change to the way education is funded to ensure that children from more disadvantaged parts of the North are not left behind.”

While a leading teachers union has called for the Government to roll out an “ambitious” long term plan to rebuild the nation's schooling.

The national union for headteachers (NAHT) is urging Boris Johnson to consider it’s seven point blueprint recovery plan published this month to prioritise the early years; improve support for mental health and wellbeing and invest in the teaching profession.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the school leaders’ union, NAHT, said: “What we have seen from the government so far is well below par, in terms of its speed of response, the scope of its ambition and the depth of its pockets.

“Education recovery cannot be done on the cheap, but as things stand, that is exactly what the government is proposing.”

A spokesman for the Prime Minister, said: “Since coming to office the Prime Minister has committed an additional investment in education totalling over £17 billion by levelling up school funding across England, investing in the teaching workforce and starting a tutoring revolution to help pupils catch up on the lost learning due to the pandemic.”

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