£1 billion 'Covid catch-up fund' announced to help children with lost learning
19 June 2020, 00:01 | Updated: 19 June 2020, 19:35
Boris Johnson has announced a £1 billion fund for schools in England to help children catch-up with their education after months out of lessons.
The most disadvantaged children will have access to tutors through a £350 million national programme for the 2020/21 academic year, to prevent the attainment gap from widening further.
A further £650 million will be shared across state primary and secondary schools over the 2020-21 academic year to help children from all backgrounds who have lost teaching time, the Government has said.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb told LBC News about how the money will be spent: “The £650m will be distributed to schools to use at their discretion.
"We are absolutely determined that no child will have a detrimental effect on their education as a result of the coronavirus crisis."
“We always have to rely on the advice of the medical and scientific advisers, that leads everything. The safety of teachers and children is absolutely paramount.
“It’s a phased approach with safety at its heart but our clear intention is that schools will be open in September.”
While head teachers will decide how the money is spent, the Government expects it to be used for small group tuition for whoever needs it.
The Government's aim is that providers who run holiday clubs and activities for pupils over the summer break will be able to open - if the science allows it.
The announcement comes after Boris Johnson said last week that school pupils will undergo a "massive catch-up operation over the summer and beyond" to get up to speed on work they have missed.
Ministers have come under pressure to get children back to school amid concerns about the damage being caused to pupils' attainment and wellbeing.
Children in nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 have begun returning to primary school in England, and some Year 10 and 12 pupils returned to secondary school and college this week.
But all pupils are not due to return to school until at least September after the Government was forced to abandon plans to get all primary school children back in class before the summer break.
Mr Johnson said: "This £1 billion catch-up package will help head teachers to provide extra support to children who have fallen behind while out of school.
"I am determined to do everything I can to get all children back in school from September, and we will bring forward plans on how this will happen as soon as possible."
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "We cannot afford for any of our children to lose out as a result of Covid-19. The scale of our response must match the scale of the challenge.
"This package will make sure that every young person, no matter their age or where they live, gets the education, opportunities and outcomes they deserve, by spending it on measures proven to be effective, particularly for those who are most disadvantaged."
Schools closed more than 12 weeks ago, remaining open only for vulnerable youngsters and the children of key workers, which will mean some children will have been out of class for nearly six months.
Rebecca Long Bailey, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “The funding and the principle of a tutoring scheme is certainly a welcome start but it needs to be backed with a detailed national education plan to get children’s education and health back on track.
“We want to see all pupils return to school safely as soon as possible and repeat our call on the Government to urgently convene a taskforce across the sector to develop detailed plans in collaboration with trade unions, local authorities, parent’s organisations, scientific and health experts.
“The present plans lack detail and appear to be a tiny fraction of the support our pupils need at this critical time. The Government must take its responsibility to support children’s learning and their safe return to school seriously and demonstrate leadership in making this happen.”
The announcement comes after more than 1,500 paediatricians called on the Prime Minister to make the opening of schools a priority or "risk scarring the life chances of a generation of young people".
The doctors signed a letter by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health asking for authorities in England and Northern Ireland to lay out detailed plans for getting children back to school.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the investment in helping children to catch-up.
But on the £350 million National Tutoring Programme, Mr Barton said the school leaders' union had concerns about ensuring that it is "high-quality provision".
He added: "It remains frustrating that we haven't had the opportunity to discuss any of this with the Government ahead of this announcement and that we once again find ourselves having to guess the detail.
"We really do need a much more collaborative approach so that the Government and profession can together work on developing a really effective, joined-up national plan."