The government’s £1bn programme to help children “catch up” on lost education when schools reopen to all pupils in September is to be welcomed. It will enable schools to put in place extra tutoring and learning support for pupils, with a third of the money targeted at deprived children in receipt of the pupil premium (Analysis, p10). However, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) warns the money is insufficient to narrow the attainment gap which, according to analysis by the Social Mobility Commission, has fallen back to 2010 levels as a result of Covid-19 (News, p4). The EPI points out that as disadvantaged children have been hardest hit by the lockdown, the bulk of the catch-up funding should be focused on this group.
Their argument is supported by findings from a University College London Institute of Education study that estimates two million pupils in the UK have done little or no schoolwork since March. Many of these children will be living in the most deprived communities and in homes where parents are struggling financially. They are also more likely to be affected by Covid-19 – in terms of contracting it, and losing their job as a result of an economic slowdown.
For some children living in such fragile and uncertain circumstances, achieving in education is not a priority. West London Zone (WLZ), a charity that has years of experience of working with disadvantaged families, says that it takes intensive support with a dedicated link worker for children to attend regularly and improve learning. WLZ link workers are assigned to specific schools and work with around 40 pupils, and their primary focus is to develop strong relationships.
Such an approach should be replicated across England as part of a holistic response to the pandemic that sits alongside the attainment catch up. Through this, all schools would have a dedicated youth worker to support pupils struggling with the return to formal education because only when young people feel secure and confident will they be ready to learn and achieve. This could be delivered by local youth groups like WLZ who already know the needs of young people, co-ordinated by councils and funded by the government.
Youth workers are experts at forming relationships with young people – it is what Kathryn Morley, chief executive of OnSide Youth Zones, describes as their “magic touch” (Analysis, p6). Young people will need to draw on youth workers’ skills like never before as they return to school and face the challenges of the post-pandemic world.
“This support seems to be lacking in the schemes announced so far, which will completely bypass those young people not in the Universal Credit system. This is a major oversight. A report looking at the lockdown experiences of young unemployed people supported by Groundwork’s Progress programme in Coventry and Warwickshire highlights the value participants place on mentoring and coaching to help them reach their goal. Supportive conversations and daily tasks have helped participants stay positive and motivated while in isolation, even though the prospects of finding a job have receded.”
Graham Duxbury, Groundwork chief executive, on job training support for young people
“We know ‘place’ has a strong psychological impact upon people. We must work together in different ways to reconnect, undertake collaborative work and to embrace and enjoy social interaction. This is not to say that we should forget the advantages presented by working remotely during lockdown, but instead embrace what we have learned that works well and incorporate it into future working practices. There is an opportunity to reconstruct how work is done with a focus upon redesign, to have more collaborative and less private space, all while ensuring that staff are safe and well.”
Mick Gibbs, DCS at North Lincolnshire Council, on striking a balance in home and office working
“I would urge any local authority to consider what characteristics they share, or parts of their area shares with Leicester. There could be a need for targeted and differentiated support for providers in those areas. In Leicester, many children were found to be Covid-19 positive, and while they were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms, they were going home to cramped housing and multi-generational families, often with vulnerable relatives. This is a key element of risk assessment. In terms of business support and provider sustainability, there will be a huge need to change and adapt.”
James Hempsall, director of Hempsalls, on the impact of Leicester’s lockdown on childcare
“It was great to be able to go outside, sit on the grass, enjoy the dappled light through the trees and listen to the birdsong, while also rediscovering your neighbourhood. I was amazed to find two shortcuts through woodland to the South Norwood lakes. Many people started to garden, whether edible window boxes or full-scale planting. I competed for space on the kitchen table with my permaculture obsessed daughter repotting cuttings, propagating spider plants or creating terrariums. It felt a bit like Mary Mary Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow…”
LEYF chief executive June O’Sullivan on how lockdown has highlighted the benefits of outdoor learning