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The Covid Generation: Disadvantage Gaps Caused by Lost Learning

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A new report has shown that pupils could be facing extreme gaps in education – data shows that it could take 10 years for the gap between disadvantaged children and others to narrow to what it was pre-COVID19.

The report calls on the Government to implement more solid plans and act swiftly to reduce this gap. Suggestions include improving the number of schools which take part in the National Tutoring Programme, set up in November 2020 to help children catch up after lockdown.

The findings: impacts of COVID-19

The Committee of Public Accounts released a report today related to the inquiry on education recovery in schools. The report argues that the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic will be “with us for a long time, damaging the prospects of a generation of children and entrenching disadvantage”. It perceives the pandemic’s impact on education as one of its most serious consequences due to the loss of learning for many students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, as their research has found that the achievement gap between them and their peers has widened by a decade. The committee regards this as “alarming”.

To address the challenges faced by schools in England, the Department for Education (DfE) introduced the National Tutoring Programme as a crucial part of their recovery plan. While the target of providing nearly two million tutoring courses in the 2021/22 school year was met, the report finds that 13% of schools, equivalent to one in eight, did not participate in the program at all.

Consequently, the committee argues students missed out on the opportunity of receiving subsidised tuition. They state that the DfE needs to take further action to increase participation and ensure that all students receive the necessary support.

Additionally, the Committee believes that the DfE’s plan to significantly reduce and eventually eliminate the subsidy for tutoring in the coming years poses a risk of the National Tutoring Programme becoming ineffective. The Government subsidised 75% of the costs that schools incurred for delivering the NTP in 2021/22, and this reduced to 60% this year.

The committee therefore remain “unconvinced” that challenges faced by schools are understood. They say there is evidence of funding limitations, difficulties in recruiting and retaining teaching staff, and a growing need for mental health support among students. If educational recovery is to be achieved, they assert, the DfE must make every effort to assist schools in addressing these broader challenges.

Moreover, the committee criticises the Government for its plan for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) as the timetable for implementing these changes extends beyond 2025. In the meantime they argue, the affected children continue to navigate the school system without the necessary support.

Responses

According to the chair of the committee, Dame Meg Hillier, a Labour MP, the DFe appears to lack an understanding of the immense pressures faced by schools in their efforts to assist students in catching up. Therefore, Hillier argues that it is crucial for the Government to confront the reality of the situation and release targeted plans aimed at reducing the disadvantage gap and addressing high absence rates.

She argues that the implications of a lost decade in narrowing the attainment gap for disadvantaged children are incalculable and stated “without swift action, the slow-motion catastrophe of the pandemic for children’s education, and in particular for disadvantaged children, will continue to have far-reaching consequences for an entire generation.”

Julie McCulloch, the director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the connection between poverty and academic achievement has been evident for a long time. She asserted “even before the pandemic, the rate of progress in closing the disadvantage gap moved at a snail’s pace because of the lack of a concerted government strategy and investment. We are now further away than ever from solving this problem”.

A DfE spokesperson claims the Government understands the impact the pandemic had on education and stated that they “remain committed to addressing the attainment gap”. Following this, they contended “despite the effect of the pandemic, England came fourth out of 43 countries that tested children of the same age in the PIRLS international survey of the reading ability of nine and 10-year-olds”.

Final thought

Without the Department for Education taking faster action, the impacts of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns will continue to negatively impact children who are already at a disadvantage. Existing societal inequalities mean we cannot afford to further entrench inequalities – for many, education is the only route to fighting poverty.

With the amount of children missing school, reports on the increasingly short attention-spans of children, and higher levels of SEN, along with mental health issues, it is crucial that the next generation are not let down.

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