The government's Covid catch-up plans are "very modest" and "poorly targeted", new research warns.
Despite pledging the second most generous funding package of the four UK nations, England's plans to recover lost learning in the wake of the pandemic "seem modest compared with the scale of the challenge", according to a report published today by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank.
The funding is also "poorly targeted", the report's author said, with just 30 per cent of England's catch-up cash earmarked for the poorest pupils.
The cost of Covid: Teachers' grim figures on learning loss
Comparing the four nations' catch-up efforts, the EPI concludes that Scotland has pledged the most cash per pupil (£200), followed by England (£174), Wales (£88) and Northern Ireland (£82).
But despite its relatively generous funding package, England's plans "seem modest compared with the scale of the challenge and losses in learning time", the research says.
Covid catch-up funding 'unsufficient'
"The £80 catch-up premium would be just enough to pay for 10 per cent of the cost of a teaching assistant for a class of 30 pupils for one year, and the £250 million NTP [National Tutoring Programme] could pay for subsidised access to six hours of one-to-one tuition for 1.4 million disadvantaged pupils eligible for the pupil premium," the EPI report says.
"Such calculations are only illustrative – actual costs and types of provision could be very different. However, when set against the approximate loss of potential learning time of about 14 weeks for most pupils in England over the first lockdown, the overall catch-up package looks very modest.
"This learning loss will clearly have increased over the current lockdown."
Luke Sibieta, author and research fellow at the EPI, also pointed out that England's catch-up effort is "poorly targeted".
The report says that roughly half of catch-up funding in Wales and Northern Ireland has been targeted towards poorer pupils, compared with 30 per cent in England and 20 per cent in Scotland.
Mr Sibieta said: "The Scottish and UK governments have so far committed the most catch-up funding. However, the programmes for both Scotland and England are poorly targeted.
"In comparison, we find that the programmes of Wales and Northern Ireland have lower funding in total, but focus more resources on the poorest pupils, who we know have been hardest hit."
He added: "We know that the adverse effects of the pandemic will persist well beyond this academic year, so policymakers across the UK must look at providing additional catch-up funding over multiple years, with far greater levels targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils. Only then will we begin to meet the scale of the challenge posed by this crisis."
The report concludes that catch-up plans across all four nations are "insufficient".
"Even before the current lockdown, these plans seemed modest and insufficient right across the UK, given the scale of the challenge," it says.
"With the further closure of schools to most pupils, policymakers should be adding to these resources and focusing a greater share of these resources on more disadvantaged pupils."
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned against "policy gimmicks" from the government, and argued that the cash pledged so far is "simply not enough to meet the scale of the challenge".
"We hope that policymakers heed this crystal clear warning that more funding needs to be put into catch-up support in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic," he said.
"The investment so far announced is simply not enough to meet the scale of the challenge caused by a year of disruption to the education of millions of children."
He added: "Schools don't need policy gimmicks, such as proposals rumoured in the media to be under consideration in England for extended school days and a longer summer term. What schools need is sufficient funding to be able to provide high-quality, targeted support for the pupils who have fallen behind."
David Laws, executive chairman of the EPI, said: "It is very clear that current education catch-up proposals offer only a fraction of the support that is needed to deal with the huge amount of lost learning time.
"Next week, alongside the decisions on school reopening, the prime minister should announce the first stage of an ambitious, multi-year programme of support for education recovery. The costs of lost learning time are likely to be very large, both in terms of national output and social mobility. We now need a set of solutions that will match the magnitude of this challenge.
"This is a recovery that needs to happen across the UK, so the leaders of the devolved nations must also urgently set out their own multi-year education support plans."