‘Recovery’ reports released ahead of government plan

The Sutton Trust, EPI and IFS have released reports this week which have analysed the spending over the past year during the Covid period in order to make recommendations for education recovery in England in anticipation of an imminent announcement from the Department for Education setting out the official ‘recovery’ plan.

In their report, The Sutton Trust focussed on a “fairness first” plan underpinned by three principles which should be the baseline of any education ‘recovery’ plan:

  1. It needs to be of sufficient scale and duration to match the challenge.
  1. It must be targeted at those who have suffered most. 
  1. It must include all children and young people, from nursery to college and sixth form.

They call for a plan which is carefully thought out and reaches into the long-term.  Statistics showing the impact of the cost of the learning loss over the last 14 months range from £11 billion for current secondary students over the next twenty years, to £350 billion for all current students over a lifetime as this would avoid a scenario where the education system never catches up.

 “It is vital that the recovery plan reflects the additional challenges faced by disadvantaged groups if we are to avoid a ‘lost generation’ for social mobility.” (Sutton Trust)

It is clear now that those from lower income backgrounds have suffered the most with issues such as delays in tech provision from the DfE limiting access to remote learning resources, less support at home, and the more severe impact which the pandemic has had in more deprived areas. The gap between disadvantaged students and their peers at primary school alone has widened to 7 months, the recommendations from the Sutton Trust are that the measures outlined by the DfE should aim to help all children and that there must be a coherent plan on how to move in a direction which will start to narrow these gaps.

The report uses a comparison to a recent announcement from the White House as a part of the American families plan which focuses on universal early education for three and four year olds as they estimate that the returns will be three times greater than the investment. In England, the allowance for universal early education is 15 hours per week with the Sutton Trust voicing significant concerns that we will be left behind. The “under-resourced” 16-19 education sector is also highlighted as a concern, with those going into years 12 and 13 having missed out on their GCSE exams as the Government elected for teacher assessed grades as a determinant for their gradings.  The Sutton Trust states that there needs to be an understanding from the exam markers that pupils who are being put in for critical, future-defining A-level exams, will be in the ‘deep-end’ with little to no experience of sitting an actual exam in an exam hall with all of the attendant pressures these bring.

The EPI report proposes “an education recovery and resilience plan” which is split into three strands: support for primary and secondary schools; support in the Early Years; and support in Post-16 provision; with core recommendations for each strand.

In order to effectively support primary and secondary schools, EPI recommends the creation of a new CPD fund for teachers, as evidence shows that high quality CPD has a significant effect on pupils’ learning outcomes and has the potential to close the skill gaps between less and more experienced teachers. Alongside this, the most recent data suggests that around 12,000 full-time teachers may remain in the profession each year because of the CPD entitlement. A focus on staff retention is something which is particularly important now as we come out of a gruelling 14 months. The report also goes on to highlight that the content of the CPD should be chosen by the school but the means to facilitate this should have the full support of the government. 

The report also suggests extended schools and summer wellbeing programmes calling on evidence from the EEF which shows that there can be gains in attainment of up to 2 months from these. They recommend ‘extended schools’  that would cover a range of programmes:  sports clubs, social activities, games, pastoral support and academic programmes.  EPI believes that these would also lead to benefits in areas such as attendance, behaviour and student relationships with peers. The benefits of summer wellbeing programmes, which already have funding within secondary schools,  should be extended to primary schools as well, tto enable schools to maintain contact with those pupils who may be struggling with their wellbeing. To support this, EPI proposes that it would be appropriate to issue new guidance to schools to support better wellbeing and inclusion, enable pupils to repeat a year if necessary and appropriate, and the funding of schools to hire a mental health support worker in order to combat an epidemic of decreasing mental health amongst.

EPI also highlights a need to extend and increase the pupil premium to include those who have a child protection plan and increasing the amounts allocated per student in order to reflect the significant widening of the gap and consider additional targeting for persistently disadvantaged groups. There is agreement that the increases in pupil premium since 2015 are not sufficient as these only amount to increases of £25 per pupil in primary, £20 in secondary and £45 for looked after children. There is a concern that if there is a continuation of insufficient funding for disadvantaged pupils the gap will never be bridged.

For early years, EPI recommends that this be focused around increasing the pupil premium funding to match the provisions for primary pupils along with a fund for a pilot study evaluating nursery settings in England that will deliver integrated high-quality early education and care. EPI believes that there is clear evidence that the quality of early years provision can have a significant impact on children. The key focus of the pilot is to fund integrated early education and childcare which also could include building strong relationships between early years settings and childminders.

EPI’s third strand looks at the 16-19 phase of the education sector with recommendations centring around protecting existing funding for apprentices aged 18-24 as well as help to support alternative provision places and extending the tuition fund for a further two years.

In the IFS report, it forecast that the government spend on education in response to the pandemic would need to total around £4.3 billion, covering ‘catch-up’ holiday and activity programmes, traineeships and a hardship fund. However, the EPI plan estimates that the government needs to spend £10-15bn on education over the next 3 years in order for there to be a sustainable and effective recovery plan. Additionally, there is a consensus across these reports that this recovery needs to be a sustained, long-term activity and it could be that the results of this will only become apparent after 2 or 3 years rather than immediately.

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