The schoolchildren who most need help are at risk of being completely left behind – TrendyNewsReporters

The schoolchildren who most need help are at risk of being completely left behind

The plan to help schoolchildren catch up with learning following the pandemic is dying on its feet. The Schools White Paper, published this morning, could be the Government’s last chance to save it.

The document looks to have the right set of ambitions. Focussing on literacy and numeracy, for example, can only be a good thing. But it is hazy about delivery – particularly for the most disadvantaged students currently in the system.

Getting education caught up is key. It’s clear that the plan has been a slow-moving car crash ever since ministers rescued the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) from the burning embers of the strategy implemented by Sir Kevan Collins, the education recovery commissioner, who resigned last June, lamenting what he called the government’s “half-hearted approach” and observing that “we risk failing hundreds of thousands of pupils”.

The NTP, offering external tutoring, was ministers’ best bet for helping those most affected by so-called learning loss during the lockdown. It was supposed to be a huge national effort.

But targets for external, validated tutoring have been completely missed and the company currently running the NTP, Randstad, has recently announced it will be scrapping the requirement that 65 per cent of their tutoring support goes to children on the pupil premium, a step with potentially disastrous implications for those most at risk of being left behind.

The tragedy here is that tutoring works incredibly well, and the idea that we should meet the challenges of Covid by rolling it out nationally is an excellent one. A large body of evidence demonstrates unequivocally that small-group tuition is highly cost-effective – particularly when targeted at pupils’ specific needs. And it is especially effective for disadvantaged pupils.

Done well, it can be the intervention that our poorest students need most as they wrestle with learning loss in the aftermath of the lockdowns, when school closures dealt a setback to education generally but did the worst damage among less well-off children.

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The NTP (which, full disclosure, was run for its first year, 2020-21, by the Education Endowment Foundation, which I chair), was launched as a response to those school closures because it was likely to be the most effective way to help children catch up. Had it not been allowed to stumble in recent months, it could have worked to allow poorer children to close the attainment gap between themselves and their wealthier counterparts. Instead, it has floundered.

I welcome the proposed “parent pledge” in today’s Schools White Paper. It allows parents and carers to know exactly how their children are doing at school and giving them the right to demand intervention makes sense. Parents deserve to know where their children are educationally, and if they are behind, what can be done for them. Tutoring is often the best answer.

But putting the distribution of tutoring in the hands of parents won’t close the attainment gap. It will most likely widen it. We will see a situation where highly motivated, better-off parents are hammering at the door to the Head’s office and demanding free tutoring for their children as a nice add-on, while those who would actually benefit from that extra help go without.

We need schools, tutors, and parents all working together to identify the children who most need assistance, and ensuring that they get it. The Government talks a lot about closing the attainment gap, but if it is genuinely serious about supporting those children who suffered most from the disruption of the last two years, it must ensure this new catch-up strategy is not just sound but entirely fool-proof.

As things stand, we are at risk of woefully failing the children who most need our help.

Sir Peter Lampl is chairman of the Sutton Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation


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