Catch-up plans must do more to support children’s wellbeing and play, campaigners and experts say

‘Children need time to catch up socially and emotionally to enable academic catch up going forwards,’ psychologist says

Zoe Tidman
Wednesday 02 June 2021 22:17
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<p>An expert said play must be central to any further government catch-up announcements</p>

An expert said play must be central to any further government catch-up announcements

Supporting children’s wellbeing and encouraging play must be central to catch-up plans, campaigners and experts have said.

It comes after the government announced extra funding to help children recover lost learning from the pandemic, with the majority of the additional cash going towards tutoring.

Following the new plans unveiled on Wednesday, campaigners for child’s play said they were “very concerned” about the direction of catch-up plans for pupils in England.

Anita Grant, the chair of Play England, told The Independent some countries, such as Scotland and Northern Ireland “have recognised the deep need” for children to be able to “interact with peers and engage with the world around them for their health and wellbeing with play-focused funding”.

But she added: “Westminster government seems totally sold on funding private tutors, increasing lesson time and reducing any chance children would have to develop lost social and physical skills through play.”

Speaking about the latest batch of funding for children’s catch-up, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said it was “only part of a process”.

Dan O’Hare from the British Psychological Society (BPS) told The Independent that any further announcements “absolutely have to be centered on play, the arts, and community building”.

Leaked proposals have suggested the government is considering a plan to make the school day half an hour longer in England as part of plans to help pupils catch up after the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Earlier this week, the government announced an additional £1.4bn would go towards helping pupils recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their education, with £1bn of this going towards expanding tutoring available in schools and colleges.

The Department for Education (DfE) said up to 100 million tutoring hours for children and young people across England under the measures.

The rest of the money will go towards allowing some Year 13 students to repeat their final year and staff training and support.

Jon Andrews from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank said the plans were “an inadequate response to the challenge the country is facing with young people’s education, wellbeing, and mental health”.

While welcoming the latest batch of funding to help pupils recover from the pandemic, the BPS, which represents British psychologists, said funding must be directed to areas “that would be most beneficial” and have a “broader focus than just catching up academically”.

“Children have missed out on opportunities to play with their friends and to enjoy the normal social development of previous generations, and remedying this needs to be a central part of our recovery strategy,” the group said in a statement.

Earlier this year, the BPS said young people should be supported through socialisation and play if the government decides to extend the amount of time that they spend in school.

Another group of psychologists called for children to be allowed to play for their mental health and wellbeing instead of doing extra lessons as part of any catch-up plans.

This included Maria Loades from the University of Bath, who – when asked about current catch-up plans – told The Independent: “We know that thriving in every aspect achieving, including achieving academically, needs to be underpinned by wellbeing.”

“Children need time to catch up socially and emotionally to enable their academic catch-up going forwards,” the clinical psychologist and senior lecturer added.

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

After the new funding package was announced, Mr Williamson said: “This is the third major package of catch-up funding in 12 months and demonstrates that we are taking a long-term, evidence-based approach to help children of all ages.”

The education secretary added: “The package will not just go a long way to boost children’s learning in the wake of the disruption caused by the pandemic but also help bring back down the attainment gap that we’ve been working to eradicate.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We know young people have faced unprecedented challenges over the past year - including with wellbeing and development – and so support for pupil mental and physical health is a vital part of the recovery. We have announced £3 billion to boost learning, including £950 million in additional funding for schools which they can use to support pupils’ mental health and wellbeing.

“In addition, our Holiday Activities and Food programme has been expanded to every council in England this summer while summer schools will also help pupils who have experienced the most disruption as a result of the pandemic, giving them opportunities to participate in a range of activities and sports, as well as academic support. Our School Sport and Activity Action Plan is supporting children’s physical activity and we are investing more than £10 million to help open existing school sports and swimming facilities as national restrictions ease.”

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