Government education recovery plan “lacks ambition”, says Labour

Elliot Chappell

Kate Green has argued that the government’s education recovery package “lacks ambition” as analysis from the party shows that 900 million days of face-to-face learning have been missed since last March.

Commenting ahead of a virtual visit to a secondary school in London on Thursday, the Shadow Education Secretary criticised the £700m plan announced overnight, which aims to help children catch up on lost learning caused by the pandemic.

Green argued: “Delivering the support children need should be the centre piece of our national recovery from this pandemic, but ministers have again shown their lack of ambition for our children.

“Most children will not get any additional contact time, there is nothing specific on wellbeing and mental health, and no long-term plan to ensure children get the support they need.

“The government has neglected children throughout the pandemic. We need a transformation in support for children’s learning and wellbeing but ministers are failing to give pupils, parents and staff the support they need.”

Analysis of Department for Education figures on children’s school attendance over the past year, carried out by the Labour Party, shows that 931,887,336 days of in-person learning have been lost in the pandemic since March 2020.

During her visit on Thursday, the Shadow Education Secretary is expected to highlight that the government’s plan would mean most children will not receive any additional learning time, despite an average of 105 days lost per child.

Green will also point out that the proposal includes nothing on wellbeing and mental health, or how extra support will be staffed, and that it makes no long-term commitment to delivering support with funding provided for only one year.

The plan put forward by the government includes £200m of funding to expand the government’s national tutoring programme and a £302m “recovery premium” that will be given directly to schools to support the most disadvantaged pupils.

But Labour’s education spokesperson will highlight on Thursday that the summer school programmes are expected to reach only a third of the 1.44 million children currently in receipt of free school meals.

Critics of the plan have argued that the measures outlined do not go far enough. NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted said the £200m funding announced for summer schemes “won’t be anywhere near big enough”.

She also stressed that the £302m boost to the pupil premium falls far short of the £750m uplift recommended by the NEU and the education charity Sutton Trust. Bousted added: “This challenge is too significant to be met with half measures.”

“It [the plan] demands substantially more funding than that announced today,” she said. “We believe there is broad public support for proper investment to enable a fairer education system so that no children or young people are left behind.”

In a Covid press conference this evening, Gavin Williamson told those watching that all primary school children will return to the classroom on March 8th but said secondary schools will be able to stagger the return of pupils.

The education recovery plan does not mention other measures the government has reportedly been considering such as making school days longer or shortening the length of holidays to make up for the time lost during the health crisis.

But responding to questions tonight, the Education Secretary said he hoped that students would be offered “time in schools” over the summer. Asked about longer school days, he said only that he hopes to see “step change in what we can deliver”.

Challenged on how schools will staff the additional activities to be put on over the summer holiday period, he argued schools would have flexibility to make their own arrangements and could either pay existing staff or bring in new employees.

Williamson refused to give details on how exam grades will be awarded this year, ahead of an announcement on Thursday, but told viewers that “we are putting out trust firmly in the hands of teachers” and said there would be no algorithm.

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