Coronavirus: 'Help poor pupils with a catch-up premium'

Call for schools to get extra £700 per disadvantaged pupil when they reopen, amid attainment gap fears

Tes Reporter

School gate

A "catch-up premium" to help vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils when schools reopen should be signed off by ministers, a senior Conservative MP has said.

Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, said a per-pupil funding arrangement was needed as research suggests disadvantaged pupils are "adversely affected" by school closures.

He fears this will "sap their progress" compared with that of their better-off classmates, and extra funding is required to improve their chances of fulfilling their potential once the coronavirus lockdown ends.

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Businesses across the UK should also be encouraged to donate laptops given some pupils lack digital access, the MP added.

Mr Halfon said: "Learning under lockdown is harder for disadvantaged pupils than it is for their peers.

"Many live in challenging home-learning environments.

"One headteacher mentioned that in the first two days of lockdown, they had made two referrals to social care following calls from the police about domestic violence at pupils' homes.

"55 per cent of teachers from the most disadvantaged schools think the average pupil in their class is learning for less than one hour a day.

"And many vulnerable children who are still allowed to attend school are just not turning up.

"While teachers do a brilliant job looking out for these children, some will inevitably fall through the net.

"The damage done to pupils when they are not learning is well known.

"And a strong body of literature suggests that school closures adversely affect disadvantaged pupils more than their peers – even relatively short absences, including over school holidays, can start to sap progress."

Mr Halfon added one headteacher in his Harlow constituency said 8 per cent of his school's students did not have internet access.

The MP said: "In this context, it seems clear that if schools stay closed much longer and we do nothing more to support disadvantaged children, a wave of lost potential will come crashing down on them."

Mr Halfon's ideas include charities that specialise in tutoring disadvantaged learners and supporting schools.

In reaching the £700-per-pupil cost, Mr Halfon estimated "timely" interventions would require around 30 minutes of tuition, three to five times a week over a six- to 12-week period – adding that such a programme would require approximately four days of teacher time.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Schools across the country are going above and beyond to help support children during this challenging period.

"We are providing continuity in funding for schools, including the pupil premium to support and improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, and working with social workers and other safeguarding professionals to make sure the most vulnerable children are in school.

"We are also partnering with software providers to urgently consider how to best support schools facing technology challenges."

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