Catch-up funding ‘poorly targeted’ says EPI report

The Covid catch-up funding provided in England is both insufficient and poorly targeted, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has suggested as it publishes a new research report. The report Education reopening and catch-up support across the UK was produced in association with the Nuffield Foundation, and analyses the various funding initiatives for coronavirus catch-up across the four nations of the UK. It also considers school attendance following the wider reopening of schools, the impact on early years providers and provision for pupils with SEND. 

In the report the EPI find that within the UK Scotland has the most generous catch-up funding, followed by England, and with both countries offering more than twice the level of per pupil catch-up spending than in Wales and Northern Ireland. However they also found that the Welsh and Northern Irish schemes are better targeted, with around half of the catch-up funding allocated to disadvantaged pupils who are likely to have been more severely impacted by school closures.

In England, the Department for Education (DfE) has committed to about £1.2bn or £174 per pupil for catch-up support for schools and a further £96m in specific post-16 support. This includes a general catch-up premium of £80 per pupil and the National Tutoring Programme targeted at more disadvantaged pupils. However, overall less than 30 per cent of the funding and support has been focused on disadvantaged pupils so far. In Scotland the overall spend is around £200 per pupil, but with just 20 per cent targeted at disadvantaged pupils.

The report describes the funding provided in all four nations as welcome but ‘modest’ in relation to the scale of the challenge presented by the pandemic. The report’s authors estimate that pupils have missed out on around half a year of normal face to face teaching, with this compounded by lower than usual attendance during the Autumn term 2020 due to rising infection rates. The authors call for policymakers across the UK to provide much more catch-up funding, with substantial funding targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils. They also call for governments across the UK to put in place multi-year education programmes which address the scale of learning loss. Currently Scotland’s catch-up plan spans the longest period, covering this academic year and next. The UK government has committed some extra funding for next year for England, while current Welsh and Northern Irish plans end this summer.

Other findings in the report include that all nations of the UK have failed so far to provide adequate guidance on supporting vulnerable pupils who have SEND with remote learning, and that the early years sector will require additional financial support to address reduced demand during the current lockdown and possibly beyond.

Luke Sibieta, research fellow at the EPI and one of the report’s authors commented: ‘We know that the adverse effects of the pandemic will persist well beyond this academic year, so policymakers across the UK must look at providing additional catch-up funding over multiple years, with far greater levels targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils. Only then will we begin to meet the scale of the challenge posed by this crisis.’

Also commenting on the findings Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘The government must have a long-term plan for evidence-based education recovery, not short-term catch-up ideas such as add-ons to the school day. High-quality teaching is the most important driver of educational equity, and the best contribution the government could make is to value and invest in the teaching profession.’

A DfE spokesperson said the government recognised that a ‘long-term plan is required to make sure pupils have the chance to make up their lost education over the course of this parliament’.

Full report:

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July 12, 2021 (PDF 3.01 MB)

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