POLITICS
01/06/2021 22:30 BST

Boris Johnson's £1.4bn Schools Catch-Up Fund Branded 'Paltry' And 'Disappointing'

Unions say sum less than a tenth of £15bn hoped for and accuse Treasury of stepping in.

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High school students at school, wearing N95 Face masks. Teenage girl wearing eyeglasses sitting at the school desk and listening to the teacher.

A £1.4bn catch-up tuition plan to help children recover lost learning after Covid has been branded “hugely disappointing”. 

The Department for Education (DfE) announced the cash for schools and colleges in England and have underlined it comes on top of £1.7bn already pledged for lost education. 

The cash will see pupils offered up to 100 million hours of extra teaching, with Year 13 students given the option to repeat their final year if particularly hard-hit by lockdown. 

But unions have said package “lets down the nation’s children”, and falls short of the £15bn school leaders hoped for, with some accusing Rishi Sunak’s Treasury of blocking further spending.  

The DfE scheme includes £1bn to support up to six million, 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged pupils, as well as an expansion of the 16-19 tuition fund which will target subjects such as maths and English.

A further £400 million will go towards providing high-quality training to early years practitioners and school teachers boost progress.

But the announcement – made during the half-term – does not include plans to lengthen the school day, or shorten the summer break.

The government’s education recovery commissioner, Kevan Collins, is still considering long-term proposals to address the impact of Covid on children.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), suggested that there had been a battle behind the scenes over funding for education recovery between the Treasury and the DfE as the “settlement is less than a tenth of the £15bn that was being mooted”.

He said: “This is a hugely disappointing announcement which lets down the nation’s children and schools at a time when the government needed to step up and demonstrate its commitment to education.

“The amount of money that the government plans to put into education recovery is insufficient and shows a failure to recognise the scale of learning loss experienced by many pupils during the pandemic – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.” 

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: “It’s a damp squib – some focus in a couple of the right areas is simply not enough.

“The funding announced to back these plans is paltry compared to the amounts other countries have invested, or even compared to government spending on business recovery measures during the pandemic.

“Education recovery cannot be done on the cheap.”

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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson

But Whiteman added that the union was relieved to see that extending the school day had been “shelved for now” as he warned the policy could reduce family time and leave less time for extracurricular activities.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “The government’s plans for education recovery for the nation’s pupils are inadequate and incomplete. Rarely has so much been promised and so little delivered.”

“The Treasury has shown, in this paltry offer, that it does not understand, nor does it appreciate, the essential foundation laid by education for the nation’s economic recovery.

“Its failure, on this scale, to fund what is needed for education recovery, is a scar which will take generations of children and young people to heal.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson has defended the fund, however, adding a review of longer school days would form part of the next stage of the review. 

He said: “Young people have sacrificed so much over the last year and as we build back from the pandemic, we must make sure that no child is left behind.

“This next step in our long-term catch-up plan should give parents confidence that we will do everything we can to support children who have fallen behind and that every child will have the skills and knowledge they need to fulfil their potential.”

It was announced as Labour published its two-year £14.7 billion education recovery plan, which called for extracurricular activities to be expanded and mental health support in schools to be improved.