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Schools given £1bn to help pupils catch up after lockdown

Schools in England will receive a £1bn boost to help pupils catch up after coronavirus, including a national tutoring programme for the most disadvantaged students hit hardest by months of school closures.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, will on Friday set out a package for education that he promised would “protect a generation of children” from the impact of the pandemic.

But after pupils have spent more than six months away from school, some educators are concerned the intervention may not do enough to tackle the “attainment gap” that has probably emerged between disadvantaged students and their peers.

The government package includes £650m in one-off grants for state primary and secondary schools in England, for helping students catch up in the 2020-21 academic year. Although headteachers will have some freedom to decide how the money is spent, the government said it expected it to be spent on “evidence-based interventions, particularly small-group tuition for whoever needs it”.

A national tutoring programme worth £350m will additionally be set up to offer high-quality tuition to the most disadvantaged children and to close the attainment gap between them and the rest of their age group.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said the funding announcement was a “welcome financial commitment”. 

“It is essential now that this funding is used to help those schools and children who need it most. Writing the cheque is only the beginning, and it will require a national effort to provide the high-quality help and support required,” she said. 

The new funding follows weeks of disagreement over education in lockdown, with the government forced to abandon plans to open primary schools, and unions frustrated with what they say is a lack of planning.

The Educational Endowment Foundation, a charity working with the government to implement the tutoring programme, warned this month that school closures were likely to reverse a decade of progress in narrowing the educational divide between disadvantaged children and their peers.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the “vital investment” but said serious questions remained over whether subsidising tuition was the most effective use of funding, and over the extent to which school leaders would be able to decide how it was spent. 

“It remains frustrating that we haven’t had the opportunity to discuss any of this with the government ahead of this announcement,” he said. “We really do need a much more collaborative approach.”

Natalie Perera, executive director of the Education Policy Institute, said the total sum would be “spread thinly” among all school pupils, depriving disadvantaged students of the targeted support they needed most.

“We think it amounts to quite a low ungenerous package, given the scale of the challenge,” she said, highlighting that the package included no support for early-years or post-16 students.

The national tutoring programme will offer schools subsidised tuition from approved organisations and place graduate tutors to provide targeted catch-up learning in the most disadvantaged schools.

Peter Lampl, the chairman of the Sutton Trust and the Educational Endowment Foundation, said there was strong evidence that tutoring was a cost-effective way of mitigating the impact of school closures.

A review by the Sutton Trust and EEF found one-on-one tutoring on average helped students progress an additional three to six months, with disadvantaged students benefiting most.

“The national tutoring programme is a major opportunity to not only reverse the damage done by school closures but to also build a fairer education system for the future,” Sir Peter said.

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