The Department for Education in England has today announced the next phase of their plan for children to ‘catch up’ their education after Covid-19. 

In what has been described by ASCL union head, Geoff Barton, as a “hugely disappointing” proposal, £1.4 billion will be made available over three years to provide extra tutoring for children most in need of support, and teacher training and development, including for early years professionals. 

The funding will also enable year 13 students to have the option of repeating their final year if they have been particularly disadvantaged by the pandemic. 

The contents of this plan have been hotly anticipated over recent weeks, with rumours of extensions to the school day and year widely reported. The possibility of a longer school day is not completely off the table, but funding for any further proposals will have to wait until the next spending review. 

Geoff Barton will not be alone in feeling a sense of disappointment at the latest proposals. Not only is the amount of funding considerably less than was identified as necessary by the Education Policy Institute, but it’s hard to escape the sense that a once in a generation opportunity to really examine the way we approach education in England has passed us by. 

While the move to virtual learning posed considerable challenges for teachers, children and families, the advances that have been made over the past year are remarkable and, at Adoption UK, we know that some children – especially those who find school particularly difficult – have benefitted from the opportunity to learn without the anxiety that attending school can cause. These proposals contain nothing about how technology could be harnessed to increase flexible educational opportunities. 

For the first time in years, the current generation of primary school leavers have enjoyed a year 6 without SATs. As head teacher Chris Dyson wrote in this TES article, the lack of SATs preparation has freed up months of time, not only for catching up what might have been missed during lockdown, but also for a broader exploration of the wider curriculum – History projects, Science experiments, sports, Music, Art and Drama. Our children are some of the most tested and examined children in the world. These proposals contain nothing for those who would like to see an overhaul of the way we assess children’s progress. 

The ‘catch up’ tutoring will be targeted at those most in need and is being promoted as in line with the aim of closing the ‘attainment gap’, but such programmes do nothing to address the causes of those gaps. Extra tutoring for children does not address the fundamental needs of families living in poverty. It does not fill the gaps in SEND provision. It does not account for the needs of children impacted by adverse experiences, loss and trauma. It is a sticking plaster to cover fundamental societal challenges that are all too often laid at the feet of schools to solve. 

There is so much more that could have been learned from the lockdown experience: the benefits of very small class sizes, of a curriculum with more opportunities for outdoor and creative activities, of consistency of staffing, of improved home-school communications and involving whole families in children’s education. There is much to be learned also from seeing the impact on development and wellbeing due to what children have missed: social opportunities, extra-curricular activities, physical activity, play. The proposals do not recognise these opportunities and challenges. 

Extra tutoring will no doubt bring some benefits to many of the children that access it, but the hope of a bold plan to reimagine our education system to truly value and nurture the talents, aptitudes and dreams of all of our children, including the most vulnerable, feels like little more than a fading mirage.   

Author: Rebecca Brooks, Education Policy Advisor, Adoption UK