Exclusive: DfE 'must do more to tackle learning chasm'

Teachers ‘shocked’ at how the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils has widened during lockdown, Tes poll shows

Coronavirus: The DfE must do more to tackle the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils, say school staff in a Tes poll

More than two-thirds of school staff say the government isn’t doing enough to help disadvantaged pupils during the coronavirus pandemic, Tes can reveal.

A lack of help with online access as well as missing catch-up support are among the main concerns, according to a Tes survey, responded to by around 6,000 school staff in England, including teachers, teaching assistants and heads.

And three-quarters of respondents said the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has widened under lockdown, with more than a third saying it has now become "a chasm".

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Many respondents said the government scheme providing laptops for disadvantaged pupils came too late, including one respondent who said that devices didn’t arrive until almost the end of term. While another said: “Why can we now afford to supply internet and laptops to kids when we couldn't before? Shameful.”

Coronavirus: The impact on disadvantaged pupils

Others criticised the government's lack of catch-up support, including one respondent who described the £350 million National Tutoring Programme (part of the government’s £1 billion Covid catch-up fund) as “a sticking plaster”. And another said it would possibly only pay for four one-to-one sessions lasting an hour each, which “will not address the loss of an entire term”.

tes survey 1The Conservative chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon, said he was not surprised by the Tes findings. “The billion-pound catch-up programme is going to be incredibly important," he said.

"I would hope that, as much as possible, there are summer schools and camps around the country to help these left-behind pupils catch up, not just with education but with pastoral care and wellbeing as well.”

However, respondents also highlighted a lack of summer school provision. One said “only certain areas were offered summer school schemes”, while another asked “where are the summer holiday catch-ups?”, and another said “[there are] too many missed opportunities – summer schools, laptops etc.”

Other respondents commented on the free school meal vouchers scheme, which was described as “a disaster” and “chaotic”, while one respondent said: “The issue of meal vouchers being forced by Marcus Rashford shows how detached from the situation the government were.”

The survey reveals that fears among schools staff about the widening learning gap remain almost as strong as in the last Tes survey, in May, when 79 per cent said it had widened.   

Tes survey 1

That figure has only dropped slightly to 75 per cent, and 34 per cent of respondents said that the coronavirus lockdown has had such a severe impact that the gap has become a "chasm". 

Many teachers said they were "worried", with one responding: “I am shocked at the attainment gap. How could we expect students to achieve if they had no access to digital equipment?“

Another said: “We have much higher than average disadvantaged pupils. I would say about 10-15 per cent of students in each class of 30 did the work set. Most have done none at all.”

The children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, told Tes: “We must make sure that every child returning to school after six months away gets the help they need to get back on track, particularly the most disadvantaged children.

“It is vital that the DfE’s £1bn in catch-up funding targets those children who need it most."

The DfE has been contacted for comment.


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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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