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Pupils face 'lost decade' in education after Covid, MPs warn in UK

By Christina McSorley & Alice Evans BBC News

Some pupils are facing a "lost decade" of progress in schools in England if action is not taken, MPs have warned.

Their report expressed alarm that it could take 10 years for the gap between disadvantaged children and others to narrow to what it was before Covid.

It urged the government to take faster and more effective action, such as improving uptake of a tutoring scheme designed to help students catch up.

The government said it had made £5bn available for education recovery.

About 13% of schools in England did not take part in the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) in 2021-22. It was set up in November 2020 to help children catch up after Covid lockdowns disrupted education.

The NTP provides primary and secondary schools with funding to subsidise tutoring, including one-to-one and group lessons.

The Department for Education (DfE) initially subsidised 75% of the costs which schools incurred for delivering the NTP, but this reduced to 60% this year and will go down to 50% next year.

  • Third of £594m post-lockdown tutoring cash unspent

  • Covid fuels deepening education inequalities - MPs

  • School Covid catch-up funding 'so bureaucratic'

The report from the Public Accounts Committee recommended that the DfE find out why some schools were not taking part and act to improve uptake.

It also said the DfE should monitor how much tutoring is being provided while it is being subsidised, and "intervene if tutoring levels drop significantly" afterwards.

"There is a risk that without this central subsidy, the National Tutoring Programme will wither on the vine," the report said.

"We are not convinced that the department fully appreciates the pressures schools are under as they seek to help pupils catch up."

The BBC revealed in April that more than £200m earmarked for the scheme was left unspent.

Nigel Attwood, head teacher at Bellfield Junior School in Birmingham, said he cannot afford to run the NTP in the next academic year.

He said he encountered problems with affordability, capacity, and bureaucracy.

"We have so many little bits of pots of money that is ring-fenced and it can be really difficult to spend it because capacity is not there," he told the BBC.

"What we need is the the money, and the staffing to be able to give the children what they need."

The report also called for the DfE to:

  • publish a plan on how it will reduce the disadvantage gap

  • do more to find out why disadvantaged pupils have higher absence rates

  • take targeted action to reduce those absence rates.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the government was "in denial" about the scale of the problems schools are facing.

"The growing attainment gap with all its implications for children's life chances can't be allowed to continue and the government must take immediate action," he added.

The government does not have to act on the recommendations, but it does have to respond to them within two months. It is expected that it will then set out a timeline for implementing them.

  • Pupil absences remain above pre-Covid levels

  • Children in England ranked fourth globally for reading

A DfE spokesperson said: "We are conscious of the effect the pandemic has had on pupils' education which is why we have made £5bn available for education recovery.

"Despite the effect of the pandemic, England came fourth out of 43 countries that tested children of the same age in the Pirls international survey of the reading ability of nine and 10-year-olds.

"We remain committed to addressing the attainment gap which is why the National Tutoring Programme is targeted at the most disadvantaged students, and has had over three million course starts to date, backed by more than £1bn investment."

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