Pupils in England will be offered extra tutoring sessions under a multimillion-pound school Covid catch-up plan.
Up to 100 million hours of tuition is promised as part of the government programme for children who lost learning while schools were closed due to coronavirus lockdowns.
A further £1.4billion of funding will be made available for catch-up, the Department for Education (DfE) announced, on top of the £1.7billion already pledged.
As part of the recovery package, some Year 13 students will be given the option to repeat their final year if they have been badly affected by Covid.
Schools and colleges will be funded by the DfE to help accommodate the additional student numbers.
Funding package a ‘damp squib’
But education unions have described the £1.4 billion funding package as “hugely disappointing” and a “damp squib”, with one school leaders’ union boss warning that the announcement “lets down the nation’s children”.
It was announced as Labour published its two-year £14.7 billion education recovery plan, which called for extracurricular activities to be expanded and mental health support in schools to be improved.
Shadow education secretary Kate Green said the Government’s scheme “makes a mockery of the Prime Minister’s claim that education is a priority”.
The DfE programme includes £1 billion to support up to six million, 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged pupils, as well as an expansion of the 16-19 tuition fund which will target subjects such as maths and English.
A further £400 million will go towards providing high-quality training to early years practitioners and school teachers to ensure children progress.
But the announcement – which was made during the half-term – does not include plans to lengthen the school day, or shorten the summer break.
‘More needed to meet scale of challenge’
The government’s education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, is still considering long-term proposals to address the impact of Covid on children.
Sir Kevan said: “The pandemic has caused a huge disruption to the lives of England’s children. 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 DfE said the next stage will include a review of time spent in school and college and the impact this could have on helping young people. The findings will be set out later in the year to inform the spending review.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Young people have sacrificed so much over the last year and as we build back from the pandemic, we must make sure that no child is left behind.
“This next step in our long-term catch-up plan should give parents confidence that we will do everything we can to support children who have fallen behind and that every child will have the skills and knowledge they need to fulfil their potential.”
‘Hugely disappointing announcement’
But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), suggested that there had been a battle behind the scenes over funding for education recovery between the Treasury and the DfE as the “settlement is less than a tenth of the £15 billion that was being mooted”.
He said: “This is a hugely disappointing announcement which lets down the nation’s children and schools at a time when the Government needed to step up and demonstrate its commitment to education.
“The amount of money that the Government plans to put into education recovery is insufficient and shows a failure to recognise the scale of learning loss experienced by many pupils during the pandemic – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“The sum of £1.4 billion may sound like a big figure but it is divided into many different pots, has to be distributed across thousands of schools and millions of pupils, and the delivery processes outlined in the announcement seem incredibly complicated.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: “It’s a damp squib – some focus in a couple of the right areas is simply not enough.
“The funding announced to back these plans is paltry compared to the amounts other countries have invested, or even compared to government spending on business recovery measures during the pandemic.
“Education recovery cannot be done on the cheap. The question about how much should be spent on recovery is best answered with ‘whatever it costs’, such is the importance of investing in the future wellbeing of our young people and the future prosperity of our nation.”
But Mr Whiteman added that the union was relieved to see that extending the school day had been “shelved for now” as he warned the policy could reduce family time and leave less time for extracurricular activities.