The prime minister said that the rest of the country owed the generation now at school an enormous debt for its sacrifice in putting up with interruptions to their education to protect the mainly much older people who are most vulnerable to serious illness and death from Covid-19.
He said his “biggest priority” as the UK emerges from the pandemic will be “repaying that generation” by putting money and effort into repairing the damage done to their schooling and helping them catch up on lost learning.
“The legacy issue for me is education,” Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference. “It’s the loss of learning for so many children and young people.
“That’s the thing we’ve got to focus on now as a society, and that I think is an opportunity to make amends”
He added: “There’s going to be, this year, a group of kids going from primary to secondary school, (among whom) there will be perhaps 90,000 - it’s been calculated - who will be behind in their basic literacy, unable properly to read or write.”
Mr Johnson said this figure was over and above the numbers of children who be expected to have difficulties with reading and writing in a normal year.
And he said: “Between three and five months of education has been lost. And of course the detriment falls the hardest on the kids who needed attention the most and who haven’t been provided properly with the time and the support that they need.”
The prime minister said the government was working to “make up the gap” with support for summer activities, tutoring, the provision of laptops and a £1.7bn fund for catch-up learning.
And he said that, as well as efforts to “remediate the damage and plug the gaps”, with education recovery tsar Sir Kevan Collins would be learning from practices developed during the pandemic by schools which adopted distance learning via technology.
“I’m not going to pretend that everything’s going to work first time,” said Mr Johnson. “We’ve been through a long period where we’ve got used to things not working first time.
“But we’re going to persevere, and I think that we will we will start to make a big impact on those kids’ lives.
“It’s been an absolutely unimaginable year for for schoolchildren, for university students, for everybody in education.
“They put up with incredible privations in order to help us - the whole country - get through. Our future as a country depends on us now repaying that generation, making sure they get the education they need. For me that’s the biggest priority.”
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