Government’s Covid catch up fund ‘may not help most disadvantaged pupils’

Fiona Simpson
Monday, July 20, 2020

The government’s £1bn Covid-19 catch up fund for schools may not reach the most disadvantaged pupils, education leaders have warned.

Gavin Williamson: the government will provide levelling up opportunities for every young person. Picture: Parliament UK
Gavin Williamson: the government will provide levelling up opportunities for every young person. Picture: Parliament UK

The government today announced further details of its catch-up fund for schools including  £650m ringfenced to help children’s education get back on track following months of school closures. 

The money will be allocated to schools based on pupils numbers in installments at the beginning of each term throughout the 2020/21 academic year, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

Just £80 per pupil will be released to schools in the autumn term meaning a 1,000-pupil secondary school will receive £80,000, and a 200-pupil primary school £16,000. 

Headteachers will be encouraged to spend it on one-to-one help for struggling students.

The separate National Tutoring Programme will allow schools to access subsidised tutoring from the second half of the autumn term for disadvantaged children.

Another scheme will also help some of the most disadvantaged schools to recruit academic mentors to give one-to-one support to struggling children, in association with the charity Teach First.

Williamson said “the government is leaving no stone unturned in levelling up opportunities for every young person up and down the country.”

However, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has criticised the allocation criteria saying it may not reach schools with high numbers of disadvantaged children.

David Laws, executive chairman of the EPI, said: “The additional £650m for school catch-up work is badly targeted and is unlikely to prevent a widening of the learning gap between children from poor backgrounds and other pupils.

“It is clear from all surveys carried out since the lockdown period commenced that poorer children are much more likely to be suffering serious learning loss and to be falling badly behind. We know that prior to the pandemic, disadvantaged pupils were already 18 months behind in learning by the time they took their GCSEs.

"However, the government has decided to allocate the same amount of catch-up funding to a school in a highly affluent area as to a school in the poorest part of the country. It is difficult to see the rationale for such a decision, and it means that schools where as many as half or more of children are in poverty won’t have the extra resources they need to pay for interventions that we know can make a difference.

“At a time when social mobility was already in danger of stalling, and with Covid significantly worsening the learning outlook for poor children, today’s decision could prove to be a costly mistake.”

The government also confirmed the second year of the government’s £14.4bn funding settlement, delivered to schools over three years.

The funding will be allocated using the national school funding formula, which ensures schools from the largest city secondaries to the smallest community primaries are allocated funding more fairly to meet their pupils’ needs, DfE said.

Each secondary school will attract a minimum of £5,150 per pupil and each primary a minimum of £4,000 per pupil under the national funding formula from 2021, this is up from the £5,000 and £3,750 during the first year of the settlement but works out around £4 per pupil per day.

Extra funding for small and remote schools will increase by over 60 per cent, reflecting the financial challenges that these schools can face, and the unique role they play in local communities, DfE added.

However, the Labour Party and education leaders said the funding increase of between two and three per cent does not cover the eight per cent cut to school budgets over the last decade cited in a report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “Additional funding for schools is necessary and welcome, but it was this Conservative government that cut school budgets for the first time in a generation, and only began to provide additional investment due to tireless campaigning from parents, school staff, and the Labour party.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) said that although the funding was “welcome” it “does not even replace the budget cuts made since this government was elected, originally as part of the coalition in 2010”.

“Even the claim that every child will see a funding rise is not true when you take account of inflation; we estimate a third of pupils will see funding in their school fall.

“A million children are in classes of over 30 and we have the biggest primary classes in Europe, the highest in this country for over 15 years. 

“Four thousand schools are in need of immediate repair. Class sizes will continue to rise and school buildings will continue to crumble until the government takes decisive action instead of a series of underfunded initiatives,” said Bousted.

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