Labour demands ‘Close the Gap’ strategy for pupils to catch up

Andrew Kersley

Labour has called on the government to make sure that no child is left behind as a result of coronavirus, after studies have shown that the pandemic has caused a widening of the attainment gap.

Ahead of a visit by Labour leader Keir Starmer and Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green to a school in Hertfordshire on Thursday, the party has highlighted the need for a “cast-iron” promise from the government to create a ‘Close The Gap’ strategy that would combat the growing disparity between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils.

On Tuesday, a report from the National Foundation for Educational Research revealed that school pupils are on average three months behind where they would normally be without the lockdown, with more deprived students and schools worst affected.

Teachers in the most disadvantaged areas were over three times more likely to say their pupils were four or more months behind the curriculum.

Commenting on the story, Kate Green said: “The government’s incompetence this summer put a generation’s future at risk. Unless ministers finally get a grip, with a national strategy for catch-up, many more children risk being robbed of their future.

“Parents need a cast-iron guarantee that any child who has fallen behind will get the support they need to catch up. We need independent oversight and transparency, to compare the gap between pupils in different parts of the country and against the pre-Covid generation.

“The last six months have been incredibly difficult for children and families across the country. No child should be left behind because of this crisis or government incompetence.”

The Shadow Education Secretary also criticised the “summer of incompetence” from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson after the exam results U-turn, failure to deliver promised summer catch-up schemes and delays to the promised national tutoring programme.

Labour’s proposed ‘Close The Gap’ programme to combat the disparity would involve creating a national Covid-19 catch-up strategy, overseen by an independent body, such as the Children’s Commissioner, who would monitor government progress.

Labour has also suggested the creation of a new law to mandate the government to regularly publish more data on the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils, including publications on each local authority area.

The National Foundation for Educational Research study also reported that primary age pupils were the most affected, with years three and five seeing the largest widening in the attainment gap.

Previous analysis from the Education Endowment Fund has suggested that school closures might have increased the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils by as much as 75%.

Whilst the government previously promised a “massive catch-up operation” for disadvantaged students over the summer, no additional support or funding was offered during the holidays.

It has also been revealed that a previously announced £350m national tutoring programme created to address the gap won’t be in place until the Spring, with schools themselves unable to access tutors until November.

Another £650m “catch-up premium” for the 2020-2021 academic year does not offer any provision for post-16 pupils, meaning those entering their A-Level year this year will be ineligible for support.

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