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Support for children’s education during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic

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The National Audit Office (@NAOorguk) report on the action taken by the Department for Education (@EducationGovUK) in the early months of the pandemic, has been published today (17 Mar).

Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“Councils have been instrumental in supporting all schools throughout the pandemic, including working to support vulnerable pupils and interpreting guidance to help ensure learning has continued as safely and effectively as possible for all children and young people.

“It is essential that the Government learns from what’s happened over the last 12 months as we focus on education recovery, including looking into the shortage of academic mentors in disadvantaged areas and building on resources developed to tackle societal inequalities and better support children and young people’s recovery from the pandemic.

“The Government should work with councils and schools on education recovery and set out plans for the summer and beyond as soon as possible to help teachers and staff plan ahead to make up for lost learning due to the pandemic.

“Councils are particularly concerned about the needs of disadvantaged children who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. It is vital that catch-up support is strictly targeted to avoid any further widening of education gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.”

KevinCourtney100x100Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“This past year has been phenomenally challenging for schools and colleges. While no one could have predicted every step of the way, Government has certainly been the cause of a great deal of unnecessary confusion and upset.

“It is understandable that the Government would not have an off-the-shelf plan for schools having to operate under an extended lockdown, as was the case from March 2020, but it continued to dither and delay over many months. Its refusal to listen to scientific advice on the impact on transmission rates of full on-site openings of schools and colleges, had consequences not only for children’s learning but for wider society.

“We know that teachers, leaders and school and college staff did all they can. Learning has continued throughout this period, but there was little sign of it in Whitehall.

“At every turn the Government prioritised good press over good practice. The most damaging aspect was its state of denial over the need for a plan B even before the second lockdown loomed, not to mention the third. Nearly a year on, the Government limps to the finishing line with its laptops scheme – but this should have been resolved last summer. It is shameful that it continued for so long, leaving children and young people who qualified for the scheme without the support they desperately needed.

“As far as the education profession is concerned, the Government’s reputation has greatly suffered. It idly sat by as case rates rose in schools throughout autumn term, waving away calls for a circuit break, or more robust safety measures. So much was foreseeable, so many warnings went unheeded – not least plans being put in place to prevent last year’s examination debacle.

“The Government failed to listen to the profession time and time again and must now own its mistakes. Going forward, schools and colleges still need the support and funding to address the impact Covid has had on children and young people’s education. The pandemic has shone a light on the curriculum, and parents are now much more conscious of its faults. We need to see it reformed.

“The impact of this past year will not disappear overnight. Measures need to be in place not just for the remainder of this academic year but for the foreseeable future to ensure no child is left behind.”

A Teach First spokesperson said:

“Our target was to recruit a minimum of 1,000 Academic Mentors exclusively for schools serving disadvantaged communities and we recruited over 1,100. We’re pleased to have contributed to helping to accelerate the learning of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds through this programme.

“We trust schools to allocate the mentors to the children who need it most, but we know the scale of lost learning means a long-term recovery plan, spanning multiple years, is needed to ensure no child is left behind as a result of this pandemic.”

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Robert Halfon 100x100Chair of the Education Committee Robert Halfon MP said:

“Children from disadvantaged backgrounds were already facing an ever-widening attainment gap, and months of disruption to learning has stretched the educational divide still further. What the Government needs now is a long-term comprehensive plan to tackle this deep social injustice.

“By expanding family hubs and early years help, ensuring catch-up funding and pupil premium gets to those children that really need it and investing in mental health support, we can start to close a chasm that has existed for far too long.”

Kate Green MP 100x100Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“The Government’s slow response to the pandemic means they have failed to protect children from the damaging social and educational impacts at every stage.

“Ministers left thousands of children without the ability to learn, with months of school being missed before the first laptops were distributed to children, and failed to engage to support vulnerable children to attend school acknowledging this put them at increased risk of harm.

“Supporting children should now be at the heart of our national recovery, but the Government’s catch-up tutoring programme was supporting just five in every 1,000 children in February, leaving hundreds of thousands of children without the catch-up support they need.

“The Government has failed children throughout this pandemic. A step change is needed to ensure they are not also left behind in our recovery.”

The National Audit Office report ‘Support for children’s education during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic’, said:

The Department for Education: “did not develop an overarching departmental plan until June. … Without an established plan, the Department’s response to the pandemic was largely reactive.”

  • The Department received an initial 50,200 laptops and tablets by 11 May. It distributed most of the equipment to local authorities and academy trusts during June, meaning that many children may not have been able to access remote learning until well into the second half of the summer term.
    • By the beginning of June, on average pupils had already lost 39 days of school.
    • By the end of the school year (w/c 13 July) the Govt had distributed 212,900 laptops and tablets, compared to up to 1.78 million children Ofcom estimate had no laptop, tablet, desktop at home.

This left 1.567 million children without the means to access teaching remotely, missing up to 75 days education between March and July last year.

On the National Tutoring Programme (NTP), the report says:

“At February 2021, 125,200 children had been allocated a tutoring place across 3,984 schools. Of the 125,200 children allocated a tutoring place, 41,100 had started to receive tuition, of whom 44% were eligible for pupil premium. This raises questions over the extent to which the scheme will reach the most disadvantaged children.”

This is equivalent to 5 children in a secondary school of 1,000 pupils receiving tuition support.

“Demand for the academic mentors scheme [as part of the NTP] has outstripped supply…Academic mentors were placed in schools in three tranches in October 2020, and January and February 2021. In total around 1,100 mentors were placed across 1,100 schools, meaning more than 600 schools that requested a mentor have not received one.”

This mean only 5% (1100/21,600) of state schools have an NTP academic mentor in place

“The proportion of vulnerable children who attended school or college remained below 11% from 23 March to late May. Attendance increased gradually after schools partially re-opened in June and reached a weekly average of 26% by the end of the summer term. The Department and Ofsted were concerned that low school attendance could result in increased levels of hidden harm.”

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