Government 'failure' to rise to challenge to help children catch-up, Northern education and business leaders say

The Government has been accused of failing to rise to the challenge to help children catch up on lost learning during the pandemic, by education and business leaders in Yorkshire.

The warning comes as the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson failed to stump up more money for the country's children.

Mr Williamson defended it's £3bn education recovery programme yesterday evening, Monday, 7 June, in the Commons, days after the Government appointed education catch-up tsar Sir Kevin Collins quit saying the amount pledged "falls short of what is needed."

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The Government has been accused of failing to rise to the challenge to help children catch up on lost learning during the pandemic, by education and business leaders in Yorkshire.

The package equates to an allocation of £50 to every pupil in England compared with £1,600 and £2,500 which has been allocated in the US and Netherlands respectively.

There had been speculation that Mr Williams would pledge more money but he told MPs yesterday that the recovery package will help close the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.

The Scarborough-born Minister said: "Helping our children recover from the impact of the pandemic is an absolute priority.

"We have not lost sight of our main aim which is to provide world-class education for every child whatever their background and to set them up with the knowledge and skills they need to fulfil their potential and to look forward to a happy and fulfilling life.

Pictured, the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday defending the Government's £3bn education recovery programme. Photo credit: PA

"The recovery 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 down the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers that we’ve been working so hard to get rid of for so long."

But his words were scoffed at by a lobbying group representing northern businesses has warned the funding does not come “anywhere close” to help thousands of young people in the region and across the North who have suffered a “huge learning loss” since the start of the pandemic.

Henri Murison, the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, told The Yorkshire Post: “This recovery package isn’t anywhere close to making a dent in the huge learning loss suffered by children - particularly those in the North.”

Mr Murison stressed the need to reform Pupil Premium funding to target it at the most vulnerable - especially those from long-term disadvantaged high impact groups. While also backing this newspapers call for the expansion of the Opportunity Areas programme - which currently operates in Bradford, Doncaster and the North Yorkshire coast in the region - to help tackle glaring inequalities in attainment in the North.

Henri Murison, the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “This recovery package isn’t anywhere close to making a dent in the huge learning loss suffered by children - particularly those in the North.”

The Leeds-based education charity, SHINE, said long-term action is needed from the Government, particularly across areas hit hardest in the North where there are high levels of long-term disadvantaged children.

Dr Helen Rafferty, the interim chief executive for the North of England charity SHINE, said: “Without substantial investment in education, we cannot hope to ensure that all of the children in our region recover and thrive in the coming years.

“Funding of just £50 per child, and a vague promise of more to come in the future, will not come close to delivering the long-term results needed to secure the best outcomes for children in the North. Compared to the £1,600 and £2,500 it is estimated has been allocated in the US and Netherlands respectively, this is a drop in the ocean.”

Meanwhile the former Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield, who is from Yorkshire, accused the Government of putting children’s development “on hold”.

Pictured, the former Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield, who is from Yorkshire. Photo credit: JPIMedia

Ms Longfield told The Yorkshire Post: “This response does not go anywhere near meeting the scale of the challenge to repair the damage made to children’s prospects over the last year.

“Government mustn’t put children’s wider development and recovery on hold while the Treasury decides whether it is important enough and whether there is any money spare.”

Ms Longfield added the programme failed to take action in areas where it was most needed while stifling the ambition for young people.

“These are our doctors, nurses, scientists and computer programmers of the future and we can’t afford to gamble away their prospects,” she said.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said the Conservatives had failed “staff, parents and pupils”.

Ms Green added the programme fails to take action in areas where it was most needed - such as addressing mental health issues and boosting recreational activities - and says funding is needed to make up for "stealth" cuts to pupil premium funding.

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman added: "The government has missed an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of young people in the short term, and ignored the necessity of putting down some firm recovery foundations for the long term.

"By every measure, this is a low-cost option when what pupils deserved was something first class.

"Schools have gone to incredible lengths in order to protect and care for pupils in the most unimaginably challenging of times.

There is no doubt that this vital work helped to shield large numbers of children from the worst effects of the pandemic. What they need now, and certainly before the spending review, which is months away, is adequate financial backing from the government to build on this work. The government is failing to provide that.”

Previously

The Prime Minister's catch-up tsar Sir Kevan Collins last week quit his post and issued a stinging condemnation of the Government's £1.7bn recovery fund for children who have been affected by school closures due to the pandemic.

Sir Collins was reported to be proposing a three-year, £15bn package to help children behind in core subjects.

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