EPI release ‘catch up plan’ for disadvantaged pupils

The National Education Union and the Association of School and College Leaders have commented on The Education Policy Institute’s report ‘Preventing the disadvantage gap from increasing during and after the Covid-19 pandemic

Commenting on the publication of the Education Policy Institute’s ‘catch up plan’ for disadvantaged pupils during the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “These are new times with massively more numbers of families dropping under the poverty line and we are going to need new responses. A school’s job is becoming one of food supply, mental health support and keeping family relationships going, more than ever before.

“Responding to the distressing new levels of poverty needs a joined-up approach to getting proper incomes to families, rather than pretending there is a magic bullet where schools alone can counter the impact of disadvantage on learning. Closing the gap between family incomes, and ensuring every family has enough money, is the priority gap we need to fix. Child benefit should be doubled immediately.

“As schools re-integrate more students back on site over the next months the focus needs to be on healthy transitions which support engagement with learning and not on catching up to some government-mandated trajectory. We are going to need to re-engage students with their learning and that means we must give schools the scope to make learning relevant and engaging. This is the lesson from research around the world after education in other emergencies. Teachers need to be able to start from where children ‘are at’ when they return. Everybody will have gaps in their learning, and a new flexible approach to the curriculum will be inescapable.

“The NEU endorses the idea that Ofsted should freeze new inspections until 2021. Inspections weren’t fit for purpose before Covid-19 and they certainly won’t be afterwards. Suspending Ofsted would be one important stepping-stone to making sure schools can recapture time to work responsively with returning students and re-establish the positive relationships that generate inclusion and meaningful learning. Teachers tell us that the ‘Ofsted effect’ reduces their time to respond to students as individuals, and we can’t afford that during Covid. Pushing students through overloaded syllabuses just isn’t going to work after Covid.

“The EPI is right to sound a warning signal in calling for a major strategy on inclusion after Covid. We need to ‘build back better’, not rush back to normal. Before Covid, exclusion rates were soaring and during Covid, many parents of students with SEN are saying their child is happier at home. Let’s make sure we place expectations on school staff that are realistic and that we create supportive and not punitive environments for schools as we learn how to best re-engage students. Let’s share practice about how to mitigate the risks by restoring the role of local government in school evaluation and school co-operation. Let’s learn from education in emergencies. Let’s give staff the emotional supervision they need to support families facing really serious issues such as bereavement, job losses and homelessness.”

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Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “These are excellent proposals, and we particularly endorse the idea of doubling the pupil premium for disadvantaged children in certain year groups, and in early years.

“In fact, we would very much like to see this extended to other year groups because learning is a continuum and the shutdown will impact on every stage and age.

“We are very pleased that the Education Policy Institute has said that schools should be allowed to make their own, evidence-based judgements, about how best to use this extra funding for disadvantaged pupils.

“Schools know their pupils well, and they are best-placed to make decisions over what will be effective.

“In this context, the idea of a national teacher volunteer scheme, targeted at retired and returning teachers, who may want to give their time, could work well as a resource on which schools can draw.

“The Education Policy Institute’s focus on supporting FE colleges and 16-19 providers with an education for recovery package, is also an excellent and much-needed initiative.

“It is important that schools and colleges are left with the time and space to focus on the huge challenge of this ongoing crisis, rather than being burdened with the full weight of the accountability system, and we agree Ofsted inspections should be suspended until at least January 2021.”

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