Catch-up cash: How England compares with other nations

Catch-up funding of £1.4bn was far short of what was asked for – and a lot less than other major countries have proposed
2nd June 2021, 4:52pm


Catch-up cash: How England compares with other nations
Covid Catch-up: How Does England's Funding Compare With Other Countries'?

The grand plan has been unveiled - £1.4 billion of funding to help the education sector catch up on the learning the pandemic has stolen from pupils of all ages. It has not been met with much enthusiasm.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, described it as “paltry” and a “damp squib”, while Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was “a hugely disappointing announcement”.

Even education recovery commissioner Sir Kevan Collins’ quote in the official Department for Education announcement sounds like it was agreed through gritted teeth, ending with the sign-off: “More will be needed to meet the scale of the challenge.”

Covid catch-up funding for schools around the world

But whether more is forthcoming seems doubtful. Could the government have gone further? Certainly, compared with other nations that have already laid out their plans, there are some notable differences in how much funding is being found.

1. The Netherlands

The Dutch government has earmarked €8.5 billion (£7.3 billion) to help school and college pupils to catch up on lost learning.

Specifically, some 6,600 primary schools will receive an average of €180,000 to spend and secondary schools €1.3 million to spend. Teachers can choose to spend the money as they wish from a set of “proven effective measures”, such as tutoring for small groups or working with libraries to boost reading.

The Education Policy Institute think tank notes that this spending works out at about £2,500 per pupil - while in England the new funding amounts to £50 per pupil. Even when added to previous funding of £1. 7 billion, it still only reaches £310 per pupil.

“At £50 per pupil, our analysis shows that today’s funding package is a long way off what is required to remedy the lost learning seen by pupils over the last year,” said Jon Andrews, head of Analysis at the EPI.

“This was an opportunity for the government to offer significant investment in a range of evidence-based interventions that would help protect against long-run negative impacts to young people’s education and wellbeing. They have decided not to take that opportunity.”

2. The US

Of course, everything is bigger in America - it has earmarked $130 billion for education catch-up, as part of the important-sounding American Rescue Plan (ARP).

Not all of this money is solely for catch-up - it will cover other areas too, such as improving ventilation or hiring more janitors to keep schools free from infections. But a large portion will be used for closing learning gaps caused by the pandemic: 

“These funds can be used to [… ] provide summer school or other support for students that will help make up lost learning time this year,” the plan states.

It also says: “Districts must ensure that funds are used to not only reopen schools, but also to meet students’ academic, mental health and social and emotional needs in response to Covid-19, (eg, through extended learning time, tutoring, and counsellors), wherever they are learning.”

This works out, according to the EPI, as £1,600 per pupil. Deputy general secretary at the NAHT Nick Brook added that, on a per-student ratio, this would be the equivalent of the UK government funding education catch-up to the tune of £15.5 billion.

Which is about what Sir Kevan Collins is said to have requested from the government.

Critics: Covid catch-up plan a ‘paltry’, ‘disappointing’ ‘damp squib’

Direct funding: Schools get £579m to employ their own Covid catch-up tutors

Outsourced: Covid catch-up tutoring programme to be led by Dutch multinational 

Exclusive: Sir Kevan Collins’ extended school day plan hit by lack of cash

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RevealedThe plans on the table for extending the school day

3. Japan

In a document from last year entitled Education in Japan beyond the crisis of Covid-19 September 2020 - Leave No One Behind, the nation’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) unveiled a series of measures that it intends to take to help offset Covid’s impact.

These include plans to:

  • Assign additional teachers to make smaller groups of final-year students and to ensure enough class time.
  • Assign additional instructors to assist classroom teachers and to assure detailed instruction. This will be done in part by employing “retired teachers, university students and other ‘community personnel’ suitable to help”.
  • Assign one staff member to schools with no school support staff in order to support the preparation of lessons, contact with parents and support tasks related to health management,
  • Assign additional school counsellors and school social workers to provide mental healthcare to students.

Furthermore, schools will be given an estimated additional budget of ¥1m, ¥1.5m or ¥2m, depending on their size. This is equivalent to around £6,500, £9,600 or £12,800 per school.

It should be noted, though, that thus far no final figure has been announced.

4. Wales

A nation a little closer to home that has laid out its catch-up spending plans is Wales.

The government there unveiled an extra £72 million, on top of an existing £29 million unveiled last year, that will be used for a variety of purposes.

This includes boosting learning resources for foundation phase learners, supporting pupils in Years 11, 12 and 13, and ensuring new trainee teachers are qualified in time for September 2021.

The government there touted this as being equivalent to £239 per pupil per year, making it the highest funding in the UK.

5. Scotland

In Scotland a different approach has been taken with no set plan to catch up lost learning - not least because Scotland’s former education secretary, John Swinney, said he was “nervous about the concept of education catch-up” and believed that remote learning worked well for the majority.

Instead, the focus has been on increasing teacher numbers to help with the long-term Covid recovery in education. Every political party made a commitment before the Scottish Parliament election last month to increase teacher numbers, as mentioned in first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s speech when she set out priorities for the first 100 days of government.

She has also announced a £1 billion Attainment Scotland Fund for this Parliament, but that’s an idea that preceded Covid - there was £750 million for the Attainment Scotland Fund over the course of the past Parliament, for example.

What about the rest?

It’s worth noting that there are not clear insights into what other nations are planning around education catch-up spending at present.

Major nations such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain do not appear to have made any headline-grabbing announcements in this arena.

Perhaps they are watching to see what other countries are doing to guide their own understanding of the sums required - and the political fallout if they are deemed too low.

Dan Worth is senior editor at Tes 

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