Ministers should not focus on ‘policy gimmicks’ to help pupils catch up – heads

Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent

Ministers should focus their attention on providing schools with enough funding so they can provide quality catch-up support for pupils rather than “policy gimmicks”, a headteachers’ union has said.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said speculation about longer school days and shorter holidays to help children was “misconceived and unhelpful”.

It comes as schools standards minister Nick Gibb said he is “open to all ideas” on how to help pupils catch up amid the pandemic.

Asked whether he preferred the proposal of extending the school day or curtailing the summer holidays, Mr Gibb told the Commons’ education select committee: “We just have to leave no stone unturned in making sure that we can help those young people catch up from the lost education.”

Last week, the Prime Minister appointed Sir Kevan Collins as the education recovery commissioner to oversee the Government’s catch-up programme. He has suggested that summer schools have “promise”.

But Mr Barton warned against a blanket requirement for after-school and holiday clubs as he said it could “grind out more hours of learning from tired children with the likelihood of diminishing returns”.

He added that mandatory attendance in the summer holidays would have to be enforced with fines and he suggested that families would be unlikely to support this idea after a year of coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Barton said: “The essential element of catch-up support is quality rather than quantity, and schools are very good at identifying learning needs and putting in place the appropriate support.

“What they need from the Government is sufficient funding to enable them to do this as effectively as possible rather than policy gimmicks.”

“The extra £300 million the Government has earmarked for catch-up funding for the next financial year equates to around £37 per pupil, and we think a great deal more investment is needed,” he added.

Appearing before the Commons’ education select committee on Tuesday, Mr Gibb said further details on how the extra £300m fund for catch-up will be allocated will be announced “shortly”.

He suggested that the additional funding was not rigidly tied to tutoring.

It comes after Sir Kevan said extra hours for sport, music and drama – alongside additional time for academic study – will be needed to help children catch up following months of disruption.

Mr Gibb told MPs that Sir Kevan will be looking at all “ideas and potential proposals” for how pupils can catch up.

When asked about the merits of a four-week summer break and whether the Government would consider this, the schools minister acknowledged there was “evidence of lost learning” during the six-week summer holiday – but he said there was also evidence of children catching up swiftly in the autumn.

Mr Gibb added: “We are learning a huge amount from what has been happening during this pandemic and we will look at all ideas to ensure that we can help children catch up.”

On the proposals, Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Research evidence shows that there are better methods to help pupils than lengthening the school day. The government must filter out loud calls for superficially attractive schemes and listen to the experts.

“During Sir Kevan’s time at the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), it became a valuable source of information about ‘what works’ in education.

“The EEF’s evidence has shown that when it comes to accelerating pupil progress, there are other steps you can take that have significantly more impact than simply lengthening the school day.”

From Our Partners