Coronavirus: How PM plans to help children who have missed months of school

A £1bn catch-up programme for children who have missed out on months of school during the lockdown has been unveiled by the prime minister.

One-on-one or small group tuition will be targeted at up to two million of the most disadvantaged pupils at state schools in England from the start of the autumn term.

The tutoring will be funded up to £350m, and another £650m will be shared among primary and secondary schools to tackle the consequences of coronavirus for all pupils.

This pot, which is a one-off payment for the next academic year, will be entirely at headteachers’ discretion to spend.

It can be used for summer schools, any other educational or mental health programmes, as well as extra teachers or computers.

Boris Johnson said: “I want to once again thank teachers, childcare workers and support staff for the brilliant work they have been doing throughout the pandemic.

“This £1bn catch-up package will help headteachers to provide extra support to children who have fallen behind while out of school.

“I am determined to do everything I can to get all children back in school from September, and we will bring forward plans on how this will happen as soon as possible.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the measures would “bring long-term reform to the educational sector that will protect a generation from the effects of this pandemic”.

He added: “We cannot afford for any of our children to lose out as a result of COVID-19. The scale of our response must match the scale of the challenge.

“This package will make sure that every young person, no matter their age or where they live, gets the education, opportunities and outcomes they deserve, by spending it on measures proven to be effective, particularly for those who are most disadvantaged.”

Some primary school children have now returned to classrooms, but plans for all of them to return before the summer have been dropped in a government U-turn.

Meanwhile, secondary schools are unclear as to whether they can fully open even in September, as they have been told to enforce two-metre social distancing.

The Department for Education says its ambition is for companies that currently run clubs and activities for children over the summer holiday to operate – but only if the science allows it.

Campaigners have been calling for a one-on-one tuition for many months, as research suggests having sessions three times a week for 12 weeks can help children make up five months of lost learning.

Gabby Cunningham, 17, a sixth former at the King’s Church of England School in Kidsgrove, Staffordshire, told Sky News how four months of tutoring for her GCSE chemistry exam last year saw her secure a top grade.

Her school referred 20 pupils to have after-school lessons online through the private company MyTutor. She was tutored by medical student Matt Pickering.

She told Sky News: “It made such a big difference not only to my education but to me personally because I started to develop self-belief in myself.

“It’s not as formal and strict as in the classroom, so I could open up about what I was struggling with. When we started in January and I was on a grade 3 or 4 which is a D/C and by GSCEs I was at a 7 which is an A.”

Headteacher Will Wilson is already planning to enrol more students in one-on-one tutoring to try, but says it’s only part of the solution.

“We’re talking six months of their education gone,” he said.

“It’s a huge headache because you don’t know at this stage what gaps you are trying to fill.

“There’s a whole range of engagement going on with students at home right now between those who are fully engaged, doing all the work, sending it through, to those who have not even picked up their email accounts and looked at the amount of work they’ve got there.”

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust charity, which has worked with the government on the plan, said: “We are delighted that the government is announcing a large sum today to benefit those pupils who need it the most.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the investment.

But he said the school leaders’ union had concerns about ensuring the £300m National Tutoring Programme provides “high-quality provision”.

Mr Barton added: “It remains frustrating that we haven’t had the opportunity to discuss any of this with the government ahead of this announcement and that we once again find ourselves having to guess the detail.

“We really do need a much more collaborative approach so that the government and profession can together work on developing a really effective, joined-up national plan.”

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