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Schools: Disadvantaged Pupils

Volume 804: debated on Wednesday 24 June 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the return of some children in England to face-to face learning, what further steps they intend to take to ensure that school closures do not have an unequal impact on the education outcomes of the most disadvantaged pupils in English schools.

My Lords, on top of £100 million to support disadvantaged children in accessing remote education, we have announced a £1 billion Covid catch-up package: £650 million will be shared across state schools, and a national tutoring programme, worth £350 million, will increase access to high-quality tuition for the most disadvantaged pupils. This one-off grant recognises that all pupils have lost time in education as a result of the pandemic, regardless of their income or background.

My Lords, I pay tribute to all those in education who have done so much to care for and reach out to children over the last 14 weeks, but the statistics speak for themselves. The latest ones show that in private education 85% of secondary-age children have had an almost full timetable, while the equivalent figure in the state sector is just over 10%. That is not surprising, because of resourcing and pupil-teacher ratios. However, those are the very children who will need recovery and catch-up, particularly in post-16 education. How have the Government managed to do something quite remarkable—to avoid being praised by everyone in refusing to give additional resources to 16 to 19 year-olds in further education?

My Lords, just over 200,000 16 year-olds are educated through the further education sector. The grant-funded institutions and the Education and Training Foundation have supported colleges, which have done a superb job in moving their provision to remote education. There is of course a 16-to-19 bursary for young people who need that support. I assure noble Lords that we recognise that further support is needed for the further education sector and that it is not viewed by this Government as the poor relation of the higher education sector.

According to the Times, some studies have suggested that as much as two-thirds of the attainment gap between richer and poorer children at the age of 14 can be attributed to the effect of summer holidays. It is therefore clearly of paramount importance that we get our children and teenagers back into school as soon as possible. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that, now that the two-metre rule has been reduced, curtailing the summer holidays and splitting the school day in two to ensure that all students are able to return to classes daily would be important measures to address this crisis, as the initial lockdown was to protect our most vulnerable?

My Lords, the Government have been clear that we do not expect schools to be open throughout the summer holidays. Many teachers have been teaching since the February half-term. However, this is the third year running of our usual holiday activity clubs, which have funding of £9 million. We have made it clear to schools that the £650 million that will be allocated across state-funded schools can be used by them for interventions to help their students catch up. We have launched a Teach First toolkit to enable them to run summer provision if they choose to spend some of those resources in that way.

My Lords, given the significant disadvantage of poorer black children, with attainment rates for black Caribbean boys eight points behind those of white boys, will the Government specifically and actively support supplementary school learning programmes not just across the summer months but to the year end for catch-up purposes? Will the department partner with charities such as Symphony, which voluntarily raised £30,000 in the last two weeks to support projects in Birmingham, Manchester and London using school and church halls?

My Lords, the £350 million allocated for a national tutoring programme is to be aimed at the most disadvantaged students. We are giving schools the flexibility to choose how to use this funding, including for online tutoring, and the Education Endowment Foundation has given guidance on the best online providers. However, we also recognise that there will be a need for one-on-one tutoring to take place physically in some schools, and part of that funding will enable that to happen in schools with the most disadvantaged pupils.

My Lords, will the Minister tell us what is being done to address the levels of child and family poverty in this country, which, prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, already led to unequal outcomes? Whatever the figures, I think we all accept that no child or family should live in poverty. Can she say what additional resources will be available in the medium to long term to address the significant damaging issue of adverse childhood experiences, which also, of course, impact very significantly on educational outcomes?

My Lords, narrowing the attainment gap for students on free school meals is obviously a long-term project but, since 2011, there has been a narrowing of the gap at every stage; we are keen to ensure that the pandemic does not widen that gap again. Through this crisis, we have therefore had breakfast clubs delivering breakfast at the request of over 1,000 schools. This project has been funded to £35 million. Also, working tax credits and universal credit have gone up by over £1,000 during the crisis; we are keen to ensure that those who need help the most get it.

My Lords, I am sorry that the Minister is not here with us in the Chamber. Many teachers and children have worked hard during lockdown with virtual lessons, but many disadvantaged children do not have the technology to join in and have lost out. The Minister has mentioned sums of money, but can she say how far the Government have got in actually supplying computers, tablets or other equipment to disadvantaged children, and what other provision is being made to help them catch up during the summer?

My Lords, I can confirm that, from the £100 million, more than 150,000 laptops and tablets have been delivered; we are on track to deliver the remainder by the end of the month. Tens of thousands of 4G wireless devices have also been delivered, which should enable children to access education where there is no wi-fi. More than 2,500 schools have applied to the department’s fund to enable them to access Microsoft Education and Google Classroom. That will result in over a million students having an account and being able to access education in that way.

My Lords, there is widespread acceptance that coping with the adverse impacts of the lockdown on children’s mental health will be a particular challenge when all pupils across the United Kingdom return to school later this year. This will include a need to ensure that each child’s resilience levels are sufficiently strong to enable them to learn effectively. Can the Minister outline what discussions are taking place on a four-nation basis to ensure that teachers can use their professional judgment in delivering the curriculum without pushing these vulnerable pupils too hard and too fast?

My Lords, I can assure noble Lords that there are regular meetings across the four nations, both at ministerial and official level. We are concerned to ensure that the mental health of students is taken into account; the guidance on safeguarding has been updated specifically in relation to that. I make it clear to noble Lords that the £650 million will be given to schools because we know that schools know their students best. They will be able to use that funding for increased mental health support if they are not among the 59 schools that currently have a mental health support team. They can prioritise what their students need most to enable them to catch up educationally; that, of course, will involve recognising that students need good levels of well-being to access the curriculum.

My Lords, UK household longitudinal study data shows that, in addition to the disparities in provision during lockdown between affluent and disadvantaged, private and state education, and the digital divide, there are significant regional disparities. Children in the north-east were particularly poorly served: 28% of pupils in the south-east received at least four pieces of online schoolwork each day, in the north-east this figure was just 9%. Can the Minister tell us what explanation the Government have for these regional differences and what steps they are taking to address them?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the teachers, school leaders and all staff who have delivered education over this period. In addition to online provision, we must not forget that many schools have recognised that their students learn best with work packs and have been delivering those, in many circumstances, door to door. Although the online figures may highlight disparity, we need to take into account the fact that the educational offer has also been provided in more traditional ways, not just by way of online resources—but we are concerned about those regional imbalances.

My Lords, a few moments ago, the Minister said in response to my noble friend Lord Blunkett that the college sector is not seen as the poor relation with regard to 16 to 18 year-olds. Last Thursday, the Department for Education issued a press release announcing that, as part of the £350 million national tuition programme involving schools, 16 to 18 year-olds in colleges would be funded to receive extra help to address the learning they have lost due to Covid-19. Yet, just two hours later, the department issued another press release saying that, in fact, these young people were not included in the plans. Was that the result of a typo?

My Lords, the £1 billion package that has been announced is focused on schools. As I have outlined, there will be further support for the further education sector, but that sector is also involved with apprenticeship training; the Government have been clear that there will be guarantees to ensure that businesses can take on new apprentices, with a particular emphasis on small and medium-sized enterprises. There has been financial support to those providers, in addition to the further education sector which provides training for them. We have very clearly recognised that these young people are particularly vulnerable, and for those 15 year-olds who are in an AP setting, there is a specific sum of money to avoid them becoming not in education or training at this time.