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Education: Recovery Package and Catch-up Programme

Volume 813: debated on Monday 21 June 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they intend to take (1) to narrow attainment gaps, and (2) to address racial inequalities, as part of their education recovery package and catch-up programme.

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

My Lords, this Government are taking steps to level up educational outcomes for all pupils, regardless of race, class or background. The support that we are providing includes £2.5 billion of pupil premium funding this year, £220 million for the holiday activities and food programme and £400 million for internet access and laptops. We have also committed over £3 billion to help children catch up on lost education.

I thank the Minister for that response, but is she aware that some headteachers feel forced to use the education recovery funds not for that purpose but to plug serious financial gaps? Given that this money is supposed to target the most vulnerable children in our society, are there ring-fenced, targeted funds for Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Gypsy and Roma children?

My Lords, the catch-up funding and the pupil premium funding are aimed at all disadvantaged children regardless of their racial or regional presence in the UK. On the overall funding package, an extra £2.6 billion last year and £2.2 billion this year went into the core schools budget. If the noble Lord wishes to give me the names of the institutions concerned which are struggling, we can direct them to the plethora of resources available from the department to ensure that schools can get the best deal available for their money, such as the free teacher vacancy service and the risk protection arrangement, which many schools are now using as their insurance policy.

My Lords, we know that all adolescents across the UK, regardless of their ethnicity, are better equipped for success and flourishing later in life when well educated, yet, prior to the pandemic, black Caribbean and white/black Caribbean students numbered double the national average for school exclusions. Recent UCAS research revealed that a third of students in schools and half of students in colleges were not told about apprenticeships. What steps are the Government taking to address disproportionate school exclusions as well as promote apprenticeships as an alternative pathway for students from ethnic minorities?

My Lords, the diversity champions network is aimed specifically at making sure that black and minority-ethnic young people are aware of apprenticeship opportunities. The Government accepted the recommendations of the Timpson review in relation to exclusions and we are looking to enact them. On the temporary exclusion rate, there is some good news in that the rate for black Caribbean students has slightly decreased.

Given that the Government seem to have rejected much of the Sewell racism report, including the one positive recommendation of extending substantially the school day—barring a paltry, 30-minute possible extension—to allow exactly the catch-up of hours that children need to advance their education, how else can the Government require that the school estate, which is a public asset, be put to maximum effect over the summer months and into the autumn? How can they ensure that the publicly funded asset of teacher knowledge is best deployed to advance children’s learning to catch up more effectively?

My Lords, there will be a short consultation on the element of the recovery package relating to extending the school day because that has an impact on the teaching workforce. In relation to those eligible for free school meals, it is white working-class children who have the lowest Progress 8 measure for their achievement, but many holiday activity and food programme initiatives take place on school premises and specific guidance is given to schools about they can best use their school estate.

My Lords, as part of the education recovery package, what work is ongoing between central government and the devolved Administrations to reduce racial inequalities, including in respect of the digital divide, thus contributing to the levelling-up agenda, enhancing educational opportunities for all our children and improving our economy and society in the long run?

My Lords, the Government will produce a White Paper later this year to outline the national plan for levelling up. There are regular meetings between the Secretary of State for Education and his counterparts, as well as at official level between the department and the devolved Administrations.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, for his very relevant Question. My mentor on educational issues is Liz Wolverson OBE, chief executive of the London Diocesan Board for Schools Academies Trust. She has rescued 10 failing schools in inner London, so she speaks with vast experience. Will the Minister examine her advice? If we want to help less privileged children who have suffered during lockdown, using trained instructors after school to deliver arts, sport, drama, singing, et cetera, which more privileged children have had access to, will make a real contribution to levelling up.

I join the noble Lord in praising the activity of that multi-academy trust. We have seen hundreds of schools join multi-academy trusts and improve their performance. The development of the National Tutoring Programme— in which I believe we have invested £539 million—is now school led. It will enable schools to spend that money on existing tutors and a wider range of subjects, including arts and other subjects that are not currently available through the tuition partners stream of the National Tutoring Programme.

My Lords, are the Government valuing children in the same way as the United States and other European countries such as the Netherlands, which are investing far more in their children and young people through their Covid recovery plans—reported to be £1,600 and £2,500 a head respectively compared to the equivalent £22 per child that primary schools will receive from the Government’s education recovery plan? Are BAME children and those already historically disadvantaged bearing the brunt of the pandemic through this gross lack of investment?

My Lords, in relation to BAME children, when the statistics are broken down it is clear that one has to look very carefully within that cohort. White Irish Traveller families and Gypsy and Roma families are very much at the bottom of achievement levels, with Asian and particularly British-Chinese students outperforming every other group. One has to look carefully within that group, but that is not to say that there are not some issues there, particularly for black Caribbean children and for boys. It is not appropriate to do a per-pupil comparison, because significant parts of the Government’s recovery package are not on a per-pupil basis. For instance, £200 million has been made available to secondary schools to run summer schools only for year 6 pupils going into year 7. Those comparisons are not possible between jurisdictions.

My Lords, while recognising the Government’s commitment to addressing racial equalities, can I ask my noble friend the Minister, who has just mentioned Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, what we are doing to support youngsters from those communities, who have the poorest life chances? What are they doing to support the recruitment of members of minority communities to school governing bodies?

My Lords, there are two organisations that the Government contract with to deliver new governors, Academy Ambassadors and the National Governance Association. We have set them specific targets which they have both exceeded in relation to recruitment from those communities. The Government are announcing—or have announced; I shall double-check that—the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller strategy, but my noble friend is correct that those groups have the highest prevalence for free school meals and some of the lowest educational attainment. We need to act to help change that.

My Lords, this Wednesday is Thank a Teacher Day, an event established in 1998 by my noble friend Lord Puttnam to celebrate and recognise excellence in education. It is a chance for children and families to thank the inspirational staff who change lives through their hard work. All the evidence shows that if we want to make the most difference to children’s life chances and close the attainment gap, investing in teaching is key. The influence of a good teacher lasts a lifetime, so why have the Government said nothing about the workforce that will deliver the additional education catch-up support for children’s pandemic recovery?

My Lords, perhaps I may correct something I said earlier to save me writing a letter in that regard: we have invested £579 million in the school-led programme.

The noble Baroness is right; it is what the evidence shows, and that is why in the third tranche of the recovery package we are investing £253 million in new funding for half a million teachers. Improving the early career framework for teachers by giving them two years’ professional development is an important professionalisation of the workforce. We are aiming towards that £30,000 starting salary as well.

The Government state that the catch-up funding is based on evidence. What is that evidence and how will the Government ensure that it addresses racial inequality and narrows attainment gaps?

My Lords, the evidence base on which the recovery package is based is research, particularly from the Education Endowment Foundation, and the quality of teaching, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, outlined, is one of the key factors. Obviously, we have evidence as well that small-group or one-on-one tutoring is a key vehicle to help children catch up and improve. That is why £1.5 billion will go into tutoring over the next two to three academic years. That is the evidence base. We are collecting the Renaissance research on lost education, but that is geographical, not by gender or racial groups.