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Covid-19: Catch-up Premium

Volume 807: debated on Monday 26 October 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the COVID-19 catch-up premium on disadvantaged pupils.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare my educational interests as in the register.

My Lords, understanding the impact of Covid disruption on attainment and progress is a key research priority for the Government, and we have commissioned an independent research and assessment agency to consider catch-up needs and monitor progress over the course of the year. Alongside the £650 million universal catch-up premium, we have announced a new £350 million national tutoring programme for disadvantaged pupils, which will increase access to high-quality tuition for the most disadvantaged young people.

I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. However, could she explain why, at the same time as announcing the catch-up premium for schools, the Government have stopped the year 7 catch-up premium? Extra funding for this stream recognised that, even in normal times, additional effort was needed in poorer catchment areas to get relevant students ready for secondary school. In some schools, subtracting this from the one-off catch-up premium significantly reduces the additional funds that they will receive and spells a reduction in income over time, thereby putting the disadvantaged in danger of not reaching their full potential.

My Lords, the low prior attainment year 7 sum of money that the noble Lord is referring to was increased by £49 million, so nearly £1 billion of the national funding formula recognises low prior attainment, and it is spread across all five years at secondary level. That £49 million represents the year 7 low prior attainment figure, so there has been no reduction: it is included in the wider additional needs section of the national funding formula.

I listened carefully to a previous answer to my noble friend Lady Blackstone. However, on 16 October, Schools Week ran the following headline:

“£140m of tuition catch-up cash remains unspent.”

Of course, much of that will have been destined for disadvantaged students. Can the Minister assure the House that there is no intention to reconsider this funding and that it has not become reliant on the next funding review? Does she agree with Tom Richmond, from the EDSK think tank, that schools want to see this funding

“handed out as a matter of urgency”?

Will the Minister also provide a timetable for the delivery of the promised but as yet undelivered laptops to young people who need them for ongoing learning as well as for catch-up?

My Lords, the £350 million is made up of three sections: early years, 16 to 19, and two elements to the schools funding programme. As of November, we will see the first mentors entering our schools, and tuition partners will be announced as a result of the programme.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I welcome the Government’s ongoing support of pupils through the catch-up premium and encourage the Minister to continue to give attention to disadvantaged pupils, who require significantly greater support than the average pupil. Given the specific difficulties relating to digital access for remote learning, can the Minister explain why access to computers for home use appears to have been drastically reduced just as schools have been legally required to provide online learning for those who have to stay at home?

My Lords, the number of laptops made available was 250,000 and it is now over 300,000, so the number has increased. Over 100,000 of those have been delivered. The allocation is now responding to the data so that disadvantaged students who do not have a laptop have access to one. However, we need to prioritise disadvantaged students who do not have a laptop, are currently not in education and who are self-isolating at home. We are responding to the data; that describes about 4% to 5% of secondary school pupils and 12% of primary. We have to get those laptops, and that is why these changes have been made to get them to pupils who need them today.

Disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils have been the hardest hit during this pandemic. The right reverend Prelate raised a point about the announcement from the DfE that there would be an 80% cut in laptop allocations. I was interested when the Minister said that that cut was so that laptops could go directly to those young people at home; is that the case? Can the Minister assure the House that every pupil who is in need of a laptop, particularly those from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds and children in care, will receive one?

My Lords, the laptops are being delivered to young people either via the local authority, if they are in a maintained school, or via the academy trust. The change is that we have responded to the data to make sure that disadvantaged students without a laptop, who are currently self-isolating or at home, can get access to a laptop. If there are any other exceptional cases, where schools have that situation, then I urge them to contact the department, but we are trying to ensure that laptops get to those students who are already outside of school face-to-face tuition and need remote education.

My Lords, I welcome the money available from the Covid catch-up premium, which acknowledges what we all know to be so true: that a generation of children have been hugely damaged by Covid, especially the most disadvantaged. Will the Minister consider whether we should be encouraging a generation of new graduates, who are having difficulty finding jobs in such a difficult time, to support these kids who have such a lot of catching up to do by funding a programme of Saturday schools across the country for our most disadvantaged pupils?

My Lords, the Government already give £9 million to fund holiday activities. In relation to the catch-up fund, Teach First is one of the delivery partners which are recruiting the mentors who will go to schools in our most disadvantaged areas to provide a mentor, or maybe more than one, per school. I anticipate that Teach First will be recruiting just the type of person my noble friend outlines.

My Lords, if properly used, the pupil premium can make a huge difference to an individual’s life chances once they are in school. Does the Minister agree that, for maximum impact, it is equally important for parents and carers to be encouraged, and helped if necessary, to boost the attendance, self-esteem and aspirations of those from disadvantaged backgrounds?

We all know the importance of parents’ aspirations for their children. Of course, we also want to make sure that disadvantaged students are given every assistance, so £2.4 billion is given in pupil premium, but the Education Endowment Foundation also makes available to schools the best research on how to spend that money effectively.

My Lords, it spoke volumes about this Government’s attitude to poverty that last week their MPs were ordered to vote against a Labour motion to provide food vouchers for disadvantaged children during school holidays. Even the Secretary of State for Education and the Children’s Minister supported sending them into further hardship. With almost one-fifth of the school year completed, the Covid catch-up premium is barely under way, while the national tutoring programme—as the Minister confirmed a few moments ago—has not yet begun. How can parents and teachers have any confidence in the Government developing a properly funded long-term strategy to support disadvantaged pupils suffering from lockdown, when its short-term strategy is in such disarray?

I have already outlined the considerable support that is given through the pupil premium. Over the course of the pandemic the Government spent £380 million on food vouchers, but most schools are back now—approximately 89% of children are back in school—so the traditional way of delivering free school meals via the kitchens in the schools has been up and running and responding to those pupils who are self-isolating. I assure the noble Lord that 25% of the £650 million has been allocated to schools, and the reason why 100% has not been allocated is because we want to do that on actual pupil numbers, not on pupil-number data that is out of date.

We are a far cry from the Liberal Democrat pupil premium policy, which really targeted disadvantaged children. Can the Minister say what support is being given to teachers to enable them to give more face-to-face time to hungry, disadvantaged pupils without proper technology to help them to catch up on all the education they missed during lockdown?

My Lords, part of the catch-up fund is £650 million that is going directly via schools, with an increased allocation, of course, to AP and to special schools. That assists in the delivery of education, and it is up to schools that we trust the most to be able to deliver that. As I say, it is a tribute to teachers and school leaders that approximately 89% of students are back in school.