Education catch-up plans fail to offer support needed
A new report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), funded by the Nuffield Foundation, finds that the education catch-up plans of all four UK nations offer insufficient support for pupils, and are unlikely to address the scale of learning loss following the pandemic.
The analysis, which compares the programmes established by governments of the UK (England), Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, shows that after almost a year of disruption to education, each nation’s plans to help pupils catch up differ markedly in their level of resources and focus.
This includes an assessment of support for the most vulnerable children, how local outbreaks and closures were dealt with, and approaches to early years education – each of which differed greatly among the UK nations.
The funding directly committed in England and Scotland for their respective catch-up programmes is shown to be the most generous on a per pupil basis. England’s per pupil funding is significantly ahead, with its catch-up funding over twice that of the support offered by Wales and Northern Ireland.
However, the catch-up programmes of Wales and Northern Ireland are far better targeted at their most disadvantaged pupils, who according to research, have seen their education suffer the most over the course of the pandemic. In these two countries, around half of catch-up funding is allocated to poorer pupils.
English and Scottish programmes, in contrast, are poorly targeted - with a lower proportion of funds directed at their most disadvantaged pupils.
Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of NDNA said: “Research has shown how important early education settings are for children’s development and learning. It’s clear that lockdowns and time out of nursery have impacted on children which is why it’s so important to get this support right.
“Operating in a pandemic and keeping children and staff safe has naturally meant extra costs for providers, at a time when both funded income and parental fees are lower due to reduced demand. Time and time again early years providers in England have not been considered for practical and financial support from the Government that could help them weather this storm. From PPE and testing plans to changing the funding arrangements at the start of this latest lockdown private and voluntary providers have been left to face these challenges unsupported.
“We have worked with the Scottish Government on two separate packages of support that have recognised the additional costs providers have faced and welcomed the Welsh Government’s announcement that the funding rate for early education places will be increased in line with the Childcare Offer.
“The decision to only fund places in England on headcount from January has taken a source of funding support away from providers at a time when they have needed it most. With the majority of settings worried about whether they will make it to Easter without having to close their doors for good, impacting on sufficient childcare being available in the future. It’s clear that Ministers must rethink funding and identify more support to providers.”
The experience of early years education settings in UK nations
After disruption during much of 2020, by the autumn, the proportion of early years providers that were open for children increased substantially:
Early years providers reopened quickest in Wales and Scotland, where by October more than 90% of settings were open, compared to around 80% in England.
Some key forms of support for providers across the UK such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme have remained in place across the UK over this period.
Government support for early years providers during the autumn term 2020 appears to have been most generous in England and Northern Ireland where some funding was over and above current demand for places. However, since January 2021, England has reverted to allocating funding based on registered places.
Comparing education catch-up plans in the UK
While governments across the UK have provided extra support for catch-up, these plans differ in their funding levels, approach and focus on disadvantaged pupils:
In England, the Department for Education has committed around £1.2bn or £174 per pupil for catch-up support (£1.3bn if the £96m for colleges is included). This includes a general catch-up premium of £80 per pupil, in addition to the National Tutoring Programme targeted at more disadvantaged pupils.
The Scottish government has provided £80m or £114 per pupil over two years to cover 1,400 additional teachers and 200 extra support staff.
The Welsh government has provided about £40m or £88 per pupil for catch-up support through its ‘Accelerated Learning Programme’ and targeted support for exam year groups.
The Northern Ireland Executive has provided about £28m for catch-up support and activities, or about £82 per pupil. This includes activities in schools in summer 2020 and the ‘Engage Programme’ to help pupils catch-up.
While the level of catch-up funding is clearly lower in Wales and Northern Ireland, a larger share of programme funding is targeted at disadvantaged pupils in Wales and Northern Ireland (around 50 per cent) than in England (30%) and Scotland (20%).
Whilst these plans all represent welcome additional support, they are all modest compared with the scale of the challenge, with pupils so far missing out on about half a year of normal face-to-face schooling.
UK nations’ support for more vulnerable pupils with SEND
Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have faced considerable challenges with remote learning, with many lacking access to specialised support:
Funding to support children with SEND was announced in Northern Ireland and England in the autumn term, in the spring term in Wales, but not yet in Scotland. In Northern Ireland and Wales, funding applies to children in all schools with SEND, while in England only the minority of children with SEND who attend a special school are eligible.
All UK nations failed in the autumn term to provide sufficiently detailed guidance to schools and local authorities on how they are expected to deliver education for pupils with SEND.
This omission from policymakers could prove highly damaging, given the risk that many children with SEND will have fallen behind their peers during the first lockdown and are likely to require more support to learn while at home than other pupils.
Commenting on the new report, Luke Sibieta, author and Research Fellow at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: “All four UK nations have faced common challenges following the massive disruption to education, but this analysis shows that despite this, their approaches to academic catch-up programmes contrast significantly.
“The UK government has so far committed the most catch-up funding with its plan for pupils in England, yet along with Scotland, its programme is poorly targeted. In comparison, we find that the programmes of Wales and Northern Ireland have lower funding in total, but focus more resources on the poorest pupils, who we know have been hardest hit.
“We know that the adverse effects of the pandemic will persist well beyond this academic year, so policymakers across the UK must look at providing additional catch-up funding over multiple years, with far greater levels targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils. Only then will we begin to meet the scale of the challenge posed by this crisis.”
David Laws, Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: “It is very clear that current education catch-up proposals offer only a fraction of the support that is needed to deal with the huge amount of lost learning time.
"Next week, alongside the decisions on school reopening, the Prime Minister should announce the first stage of an ambitious, multi-year programme of support for education recovery. The costs of lost learning time are likely to be very large, both in terms of national output and social mobility. We now need a set of solutions that will match the magnitude of this challenge.
“This is a recovery that needs to happen across the UK, so the leaders of the devolved nations must also urgently set out their own multi-year education support plans.”
You can read the full report here