Schools need flexibility on catch-up plans – Damian Hinds

THIS is a moral imperative: we all know that there is a whole-cohort effect from this pandemic and a risk of lasting effects on this generation of children and young people, and we cannot let this generation be put at a disadvantage because of Covid.

Funding for the Government's catch-up plan for schools remains mired in controversy.
Funding for the Government's catch-up plan for schools remains mired in controversy.

We also know that the effect has been felt very unevenly: some children have progressed entirely as they would have done in a regular year, but many have not, and we know that the attainment gaps that had been closing since 2010 will have started to widen again.

We also know that this is not just about academic attainment; far from it, it is about the whole of children’s development – their extra-curricular activities, their socialising and their development as people.

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This calls for a whole-of-society response including expanding mentoring programmes, having more volunteer readers, firms working more closely 
with schools, and having more STEM–science, technology, engineering and maths – ambassadors, accelerated careers programmes and work experience.

Damian Hinds is a Tory MP and the former Education Secretary.

We need established broadcasters and new media to step up on early literacy programmes, and sports clubs and governing bodies have a key role to play, as do cultural organisations and 
the voluntary sector. In fact, everybody has a part to play in supporting this generation.

For the Government, of course, it is about many things, too: it is about a bolstered school sports and activity plan, the holiday activities programme, the mental health services support reforms, working with local authority children’s services, innovations in early language and literacy, and the major upgrade to technical and vocational education which has at its heart T-levels.

And, of course, it is about money. A higher proportion of national income – Government money – is spent on British state schools than in many other countries, but clearly additional resourcing has been needed during the pandemic to support schools, and clearly it is needed now to support schools and children in its wake.

Some of the figures bandied around about what other countries are doing are entirely misleading; they are not comparing, as it were, apples with apples or apples with pears, but comparing apples with pomegranates.

What more can be done to support schools with catch-up plans?

Here we have just recently had the £14.4bn uplift over three years and since the pandemic £3bn in three different funding packages over the past 12 months. The last tranche of that will cover six million 15-hour tutoring courses in an unprecedented and unparalleled programme of individual and small group tuition.

It is also true that we cannot just dial these things up infinitely. People who have spoken to schools recently will know that the Number One thing that people are talking about is often not a lack of money for tutors but a lack of tutors, because obviously there were not 
100,000 tutors hanging around who 
were not already busy when this thing hit, and that is a difficult thing to scale up for.

It is right that schools should have the flexibility to source tutors locally because it is they who will know their schools’ situation best.

I also welcome the involvement of Teach First in the programme, but I would ask the Department for Education to redouble its efforts in its search for where talented professionals can be found to support this effort. Of course, teachers themselves are a big part of the effort.

I would also like to see us move to a rational, long-term, predictable system of funding that works both for when pupil numbers are shrinking as well as for when they are expanding, and perhaps this is the moment when that might be possible.

It is important that we look at extra time to make up for lost time, and the tutor programme is of course part of that, as is moving back public exams a bit, but it is right to look at the question of a longer school day.

Not everybody is excited about that prospect, but there is clearly a role for some of these important, enriching and broadening activities.

It is right that the Government is taking an evidence-led approach. We look forward to hearing more in due course and at the Comprehensive Spending Review.

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