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Covid-19: Learning Catch-up

Volume 690: debated on Monday 1 March 2021

What support his Department is providing to help children catch up on learning lost during the covid-19 outbreak. (912659)

What support his Department is providing to help children catch up on learning lost during the covid-19 outbreak. (912670)

Helping pupils make up learning is vital, which is why the Government have invested £1.7 billion in helping education settings boost pupils’ learning, including additional funding for tutoring, early language support and summer schools. We have appointed an education recovery commissioner to advise on this work.

Sadly, the impact of school closures over the past 12 months will be felt for a long time to come, with a gaping educational divide opening up as a result. I therefore very much welcome the Government’s intention to provide a catch-up programme over the summer, but will my right hon. Friend clarify how he proposes to target support to reach students who have fallen behind most over the past year—those who have been really affected by this lockdown?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The spectrum and range of children who are perhaps needing that extra support is broad and wide. That is why it has been so important to give schools the flexibility to target the funding at the children who are most in need of that support, regardless of their background. Showing confidence in teachers to be able to target that support is very important.

Children in areas of high deprivation, of whom, as my right hon. Friend knows, there are many across Stoke-on-Trent, have had less teaching time during the pandemic. Will he ensure that those children are prioritised, as we work to ensure that all children can catch up with their education?

Very much so. Let me take the opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on securing a new free school, which will be built in his constituency, really boosting educational attainment for his constituents in Stoke-on-Trent South. He is right to say that we need a targeted approach to supporting students to catch up and to making sure that they do not miss out as a result of the pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, child poverty stood at more than 4 million, up more than 700,000 since Labour left office, and progress on narrowing the attainment gap between disadvantaged and other students had stalled. What targets has the Secretary of State set to address those shocking failures?

We recognise that there is a broad impact on so many young people. We recognise that our work on closing the attainment gap between the richest and the poorest has been impacted as a result of the pandemic, which is why we are taking a targeted approach to our investments, looking at things such as catch up. That is why we have asked Sir Kevan Collins to look in detail at the actions that we can best take on helping children, especially those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, to catch up.

But just days from the Budget, there is still no commitment to keep the £20 uplift in universal credit, no sign that the Secretary of State will abandon the public sector pay freeze, and he has allocated just 43p per pupil per day to support catch up. Does he really believe that that is good enough, or will he stand up for children and families and tell the Chancellor that they must come first in the Budget?

We on the Conservative Benches believe passionately in driving up educational standards, because we recognise that for children, especially those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, that is the best way to give them the opportunities in life that we want to see every child have. That is why we have so passionately pursued that agenda for the past 11 years, and we will continue to pursue that agenda of raising standards for all children in all schools across the country. Our £1.7 billion package supporting children to catch up will make a real difference because it is targeted and evidence based, making sure that children will be supported to help them to get the very best as they come out of this lockdown and go back to school next week.

When the Department for Education previously delivered a programme of summer schools for disadvantaged students in 2013, it identified that only 50% of disadvantaged pupils who were invited actually attended, and the Education Endowment Foundation found particular difficulties with attendance in areas outside London. What specific measures is the Department taking to ensure that the most disadvantaged benefit from the catch-up programmes and summer schools on offer? Will the Department set out a timetable for publishing regular data about the progress in children’s outcomes as a direct result of the catch-up programme, and how will we use that data to adapt the programme to ensure transparency that the schemes are working and the money is being well spent?

We commissioned Renaissance Learning to look at the evidence and ensure that we are properly tracking how the money is being spent and the outcomes. My right hon. Friend raises a really important point about the summer schools programme. We want to see this money being used by schools right across the country. We do not want only children in London to benefit from this, but children in every part of the nation. Our regional schools commissioners will be working closely with multi-academy trusts, individual schools and local authorities to do everything we can to ensure that all schools take up this fantastic offer and that there is the widest possible participation in the scheme.