State schools in England will be granted an additional £1bn of funding in a bid to help children catch up on teaching time lost during the lockdown, the government has announced.
The most disadvantaged children will have access to tutors through a £350m national programme for the 2020-21 academic year, as part of an attempt to prevent the attainment gap from widening further.
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has also announced that a further £650m will be shared across state primary and secondary schools to help children from all backgrounds who have lost teaching time.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, said the “catch up package” would “help head teachers to provide extra support to children who have fallen behind while out of school”, adding: “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.”
The £650m can be spent at the discretion of head teachers, but is intended to be used to fund small group tuition.
Mr 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.
“The plan will be delivered throughout the next academic year, bringing long term reform to the educational sector that will protect a generation of children from the effects of this pandemic.”
It comes as children across the country have struggled to keep up their education during lockdown – particularly those with limited access to digital resources and devices.
And concerns continue to be raised over the wellbeing of at-risk children outside of school settings designed to serve as a safeguarding tool and a support network. Yesterday an open letter from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health warned that: “For many children and their families, these interventions are the difference between surviving and thriving. In their absence our already frayed safety net cannot function, and we risk failing a generation.”
But while balancing the safety of teachers at risk of contracting the virus and the needs of pupils to access the education they are due, the government has fallen behind devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales – which have both set out dates before September for a full return to the classroom.
Northern Ireland also said yesterday it would reduce social distancing measures down to a restriction of one metre – with first minister Arlene Foster saying it would enable the majority of primary and secondary schools in the region to operate “close to normality”.
The UK government has since said it will not be following suit in England.
Speaking at the daily No 10 press briefing, Matt Hancock said: “We are working on what is needed to get schools open in September, to get all schools open in September.
“And there is a review into the current two-metre rule. But the two-metre rule is in itself a social-distancing measure.
“Removing it has an impact in terms of the transmission of the disease, so we have to make sure in that review that we have the space and the virus is under control enough to be able to make the change and replace the two-metre rule, if that is the conclusion of the review, with something that then makes it easier to do things like have people together in schools.”
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