Education Secretary Gavin Williamson today announced £1bn in new funding to help pay for up to six million 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged school children and expand a tuition fund for 16 to 19-year-olds.
And amid reports that the Treasury was refusing to fund an extension of the school day to help pupils catch up, the Government said it would review "time spent in school and college and the impact this could have on helping children and young people to catch up".
The £1.4bn funding announcement came as Labour said all children should be given opportunities to "play, learn and develop" as part of a multibillion-pound programme to help pupils catch up.
Shadow education secretary Kate Green accused the Conservatives of "showing no ambition for children's futures" as the party called for schools to be given additional resources to deliver the recovery support needed.
Sir Kevan Collins, appointed earlier this year as the Government's education recovery tsar, was reported to be proposing a three-year, £15 billion package to help children behind in core subjects.
He has previously said the £1.7 billion catch-up funding already pledged by the Government was “nowhere near enough” to do the job.
Sir Kevan said the pandemic had "caused a huge disruption to the lives of England’s children". He added: "Supporting every child to get back on track will require a sustained and comprehensive programme of support.
“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 funding announced today, the third package of catch-up support issued in the last year, comes in response to children across the country losing months of education during lockdown.
Pupils in disadvantaged areas of the North, those in areas which have seen longer Covid restrictions and those without access to digital devices for home learning have been hardest hit.
A total £400 million will help give early years practitioners and 500,000 school teachers across the country training and support, and schools and colleges will be funded to give some year 13 students the option to repeat their final year.
Scarborough-born Mr Williamson said: “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 Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, which represents leaders in the majority of schools, said: “After weeks of talking big and building expectation for education recovery this announcement only confirms the government's lack of ambition for education. It’s a damp squib - some focus in a couple of the right areas is simply not enough."
Yorkshire's former children's commissioner Anne Longfield says focusing on catch-up education is "an investment in the future which will pay dividends for society in the long run".
She added: "This is a crucial time for children to catch up from the weeks of missed schooling and learning – especially disadvantaged children and particularly in some areas of the North where schooling has been disrupted for extended periods of time."
And Sarah Mulholland, Head of Policy at the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “The impact of the pandemic on education has not been felt evenly across the country and it’s vital this plan is targeted at those who have fallen the most behind.
"Those from long-term disadvantaged backgrounds (including from White and Black Caribbean groups) were already behind and it's likely these children have been disproportionately affected by lost learning days or a lack of access to technology.
“Education doesn’t begin and end at the school gate. We also need to address challenges such as poor employment opportunities and low-quality housing and that means significantly expanding the Opportunity Areas programme to more parts of the North.
"Too many children are still missing out on vital learning opportunities. We must take a cross-cutting, localised approach across government departments, increasing and decentralising budgets for education and related areas in the next CSR to ensure levelling up becomes a reality - not just rhetoric."