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Education Recovery

Volume 812: debated on Monday 7 June 2021

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the resignation of Sir Kevan Collins as Education Recovery Commissioner, what steps they will take to develop a long-term plan to help pupils make up for lost learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that children and young people catch up after the disruption of the pandemic. As the next step in these efforts, we have announced an additional £1.4 billion of funding for high-quality tutoring and great teaching. This brings our total recovery package to more than £3 billion. We will consider the next steps ahead of the spending review, and catch-up is for the lifetime of this Parliament.

My Lords, I cannot really believe that the Minister is comfortable defending the indefensible following the chaotic events surrounding what can only be described as the Government’s bargain basement recovery plan for school pupils. The promise of jam tomorrow is highly unlikely to satisfy many appetites. When Sir Kevan Collins presented his plan, costed at £15 billion, to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister reacted by moving the decimal point one place to the left. Perhaps he thought that Sir Kevan would not notice, but Sir Kevan is nobody’s fool. He is widely respected throughout education and across the political spectrum, and now he is lost to the vital task of education recovery. As the Minister said, planned spending on school recovery is now around £300 per pupil, but that compares with £1,600 per pupil in the United States and £2,500 in the Netherlands. Can the Minister explain why her Government believe that children in England need so much less support than their American and Dutch contemporaries?

My Lords, the Government wish to thank Sir Kevan for his work. He supports the tutoring and teaching proposals we have outlined. In relation to the methodology, it is not accurate to make a comparison between different jurisdictions. For instance, the £3 billion I have outlined does not include the £400 million that has been spent on remote learning, including on 1.3 million devices, the Covid costs recovery fund, the workforce fund et cetera, so we are not comparing like with like when comparing different jurisdictions.

My Lords, we know that this Government have a self-confessed distrust of experts and prefer to shamble from crisis to crisis, yet they appointed the expert Sir Kevan to this vital role and the Prime Minister appeared to be supportive. The money that Sir Kevan’s well-researched report identified to help all children—particularly disadvantaged children—to make up the devastating educational losses of Covid was decimated. Why did the Government appoint Sir Kevan if they had no intention of listening to his authoritative findings?

My Lords, as I said, the tutoring and support for teaching that I outlined were part of Sir Kevan’s plan. More than £1 billion is going into tutoring for young people. That should pay for 100 million hours for children and young people across England by 2024. Those are disadvantaged young people. Using a “per pupil” analysis is not accurate when certain pots of money have been targeted at, for instance, tutoring disadvantaged children and summer schools are available to secondary schools only.

My Lords, in many families, the main breadwinner has died as a result of Covid-19, leaving their spouse a widow or widower suffering not only the grief of bereavement and poor mental health but facing immense financial pressure at a very uncertain time. What special steps will the Government take to assist and support the children of such new widows or widowers in catching up on learning lost during the pandemic?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important and tragic consequence of the pandemic. I visited a school about two weeks ago where 70% of the students were close bereaved. In this regard, the task of schools is immense. The money that I have outlined—the universal catch-up money, the £650 million which is in schools’ banks now—can be spent on additional pastoral support. We announced during Mental Health Awareness Week that we have invested £17 million to train up mental health support leads in more than 7,800 schools. I note that bereavement is not a mental health need, but it may be that that workforce also does bereavement support.

I refer to my interests as recorded in the register. My noble friend will be aware that many disadvantaged pupils lose ground over the summer in terms of both their physical fitness and their academic ability compared to their better-off counterparts. Even at this late stage, can the Government take action for this summer to roll out nationally much more strongly pioneering work—like the work promoted by Mayor Andy Street in the West Midland—to bring the facilities of schools in the summer to the benefit of disadvantaged pupils for physical activity, meals and catch-up academic work?

My Lords, my noble friend is correct. We have now had three reports from the government-sponsored research by Renaissance Learning and EPI in relation to disadvantaged children falling behind. In addition to the summer schools that I have outlined, it seems that the majority of secondary schools have bid to do summer school for their incoming year 7. The holiday activities fund has now been rolled out across all local authorities so that children can get the balance of nutrition, activity and some education.

Does the Minister accept that Sir Kevan Collins made a fundamental error of judgment when he accepted the appointment as commissioner for education recovery? His fundamental error of judgment was that he believed that the Prime Minister’s definition of priority for education recovery was in the same ballpark as his own, and in that he found he was sadly mistaken.

My Lords, I can only repeat our thanks for the work that Sir Kevan Collins has done. Much of what the noble Lord outlines is a question for Sir Kevan himself. However, as I said, more than £3 billion is being invested in recovery. The subject of further recovery money will be part of the spending review. It is important that we follow the evidence from the research I outlined in terms of areas of the country that have had a differential impact. For instance, SEN children and disadvantaged children seem to have been impacted most.

My Lords, if the Government intended to be so parsimonious with spending to help children recover the schooling lost during the pandemic, might it have been more sensible to have given Sir Kevan a budget to work with? Can the Minister say how much the Government are prepared to spend and whether they will note the campaign by Marcus Rashford to increase the amount?

My Lords, as I have outlined, money for recovery is the subject of the spending review, which we hope will be a multi-year review this time. In addition to the funds I have outlined, there was a commitment for the core schools budget to go up by £2.6 billion for 2020-21 and by £2.2 billion for 2021-22. All this is welcome extra money for schools, but no one underestimates the tasks that schools are doing both educationally and pastorally at the moment.

My Lords, lost learning will not be made up just by giving large sums of money to schools. Some 80% of attainment is attributable to pupil-level factors, such as parents knowing how to encourage learning and good relationships at home. The need for family support has become increasingly salient during the pandemic. How are the Government helping councils and their local partners to develop family hubs, which have delivered well in this area?

The noble Baroness is correct that family hubs have delivered well. The Government are investing £14 million and we have just finished a procurement for the National Centre for Family Hubs to ensure that best practice is spread across local authorities. These hubs should bring together charitable as well as statutory services, ranging from birth through to 18 or 19 years old, so they should provide the support that families need.

The Minister knows that this is a mess. When Conservative MPs met the Prime Minister’s PPS and two Education Ministers, they were told that

“there has been a big mess-up over the last few days for no reason.”

So there is a revolt in the Conservative ranks. What process took place that made the choice of Randstad preferable to the National Tutoring Foundation, which was set up by the Education Endowment Foundation? Sir Kevan Collins himself was briefly CEO of that foundation. If the Government are not prepared to pay up or trust schools, how will they ensure that the children most disadvantaged by lockdown will be helped?

My Lords, as is required, the department ran a commercial procurement for the next years of the national tutoring programme. Randstad won that procurement, so a contract has been signed. But schools are trusted; that is why, as a development of the tutoring fund, £579 million will be going to schools themselves. Schools might want to employ a local tutor or use existing staff; particularly for those with special educational needs, using staff that pupils have an existing relationship with is often of great benefit to those students as well as others.

My Lords, the Disabled Children’s Partnership is calling for dedicated catch-up funding for services for disabled children and their families such as therapies and respite, to address the disproportionate impact that they have felt during the pandemic and to allow them to heal. Can the Minister outline what action she, along with ministerial colleagues, will take to address this important issue?

My Lords, in respect of the different funds, there have been three announcements for recovery: the initial £650 million catch-up, then the summer schools, then the £302 million recovery premium, and now we have the school-led element of tutoring. All are weighted for specialist settings, whether SEND or AP, so schools are free to use that revenue in the manner they see fit and for the purposes that the noble Baroness has outlined. We do recognise that those settings need a higher per-pupil allocation.

The Government state that their package should ensure that extra support is available for every disadvantaged child. Following on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, has just asked, can the Minister reply in the context of those with SEND in mainstream settings? Inclusion is a really important principle for disabled children to be able to prosper. Exactly how much of the additional £1.4 billion that she talks about will be spent on the therapies and health services that disabled children in mainstream schools need?

My Lords, in respect of the premium of £650 million that I mentioned, although it is weighted, the schools can choose how they spend that money. In respect of tutoring provision, which is school-led, schools can choose to spend that, for instance, on one-on-one provision for SEND children who are in mainstream settings. We have weighted a number of these per-pupil pots but, of course, we trust the schools and school leaders, who are obviously closest to the pupils, to know how to spend that money, what tutoring provision to buy, or whether to run a summer school specifically for SEND children.

My Lords, to give a slightly different angle to this problem, 400,000 people may fall homeless in the next period according to the Rowntree Foundation, and 1 million people have been warned that they may be evicted. If this hits schools, imagine the damage it will do to the children who are the most dispossessed, as well as those who are living slightly above the level of dispossession but may also be drawn into that. Will the Minister raise these issues with other Ministers? This is becoming a desperate situation.

My Lords, when children and their families are at risk of homelessness, there are obviously certain obligations on the school. A child can be removed from a school register only for specified reasons that the school must outline. If schools do not know of such reasons, they have to liaise with local authorities and make inquiries to be satisfied that the child is on a school register elsewhere. If the child is not on another register, they are a child missing from education. So we have processes in place to track children to make sure they are in education, but I will pass on the noble Lord’s comments to colleagues in MHCLG in relation to homelessness.

My Lords, just a year ago, the Secretary of State was berating teachers and their representatives, accusing them of scaremongering and not putting children first when they asked reasonable questions about Covid transmission in schools. Indeed, the Government used children and their educational interests time and again as an excuse for entering into successive lockdowns late. What does the sorry episode of Sir Kevan’s resignation say about the sincerity of those past claims by the Government, and what does it say about the so-called “levelling-up” agenda and the Government’s financial and moral priorities going forward?

My Lords, the Government are determined to do all they can to help those who have been disadvantaged by the lockdowns to catch up on their education. The recovery package will not be the last word on recovery catch-up in education. Schools have done an amazing job in setting up testing, running bubbles and making their schools—which obviously are also workplaces—as safe as possible. One must not forget that, during the second lockdown in the autumn, schools remained open. The Government are committed to students catching up; we are watching the evidence that we get from Renaissance Learning carefully to see what it reveals about the differential impact of Covid in England.