Teachers’ leaders have strongly condemned the government’s latest package of Covid catch-up support and accused it of letting down the nation’s children and schools.
The Department for Education has announced plans today to spend another £1.4 billion on tutoring and training teachers, but this is only a fraction of the £15 billion Tes understands that the department had hoped to secure to support education recovery from the pandemic.
The general secretaries of the two main school leaders unions have both criticised the government today for its "lack of ambition" in education.
Direct funding: Schools get £579m to employ their own Covid catch-up tutors
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was clear that there had been a battle over how much funding would be put into education recovery – one that the Treasury had won.
And he accused the DfE of attempting to sneak out this announcement out during half-term in the hope that it would not attract attention.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, has described the funding announcement as “paltry” and a “damp squib”.
He said: “After weeks of talking big and building expectation for education recovery, this announcement only confirms the government's lack of ambition for education.
“It’s a damp squib – some focus in a couple of the right areas is simply not enough.
“The funding announced to back these plans is paltry compared to the amounts other countries have invested, or even compared to government spending on business recovery measures during the pandemic.
“Education recovery cannot be done on the cheap.
"The question about how much should be spent on recovery is best answered with ‘whatever it costs’, such is the importance of investing in the future wellbeing of our young people and the future prosperity of our nation.
“The government had the opportunity here to invest in the architecture of education; instead it has chosen to paper over the cracks. As is often the case, young people seem to be low on the government priority list.”
Mr Barton said: “This is a hugely disappointing announcement which lets down the nation’s children and schools at a time when the government needed to step up and demonstrate its commitment to education.
“The amount of money that the government plans to put into education recovery is insufficient and shows a failure to recognise the scale of learning loss experienced by many pupils during the pandemic – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“The sum of £1.4 billion may sound like a big figure but it is divided into many different pots, has to be distributed across thousands of schools and millions of pupils, and the delivery processes outlined in the announcement seem incredibly complicated.
“There has obviously been a battle behind the scenes over funding for education recovery which the Treasury has clearly won with the result that the settlement is less than a tenth of the £15 billion that was being mooted.
“The announcement has then been snuck out in half term presumably with the hope that it won’t attract too much attention.
“This was a great opportunity for the government to demonstrate that its rhetoric about levelling up had genuine meaning - that it had a real sense of ambition to do the best for disadvantaged youngsters in danger of falling further behind because of the pandemic.
“Instead, it has comprehensively blown that opportunity, and shown a depressing but predictable lack of ambition.”
Mr Whiteman welcomed the fact that extending the school day was not part of the announcement.
He added: “We are relieved to see that some of the more headline-grabbing measures previously suggested have been shelved for now. Extending the school day, in particular, had the potential to negatively impact on pupils’ mental health, reduce family time and leave less time for extra-curricular activities.
"Children’s happiness and wellbeing should be prioritised as well as their education, or we risk doing more harm than good.”
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: "The government’s plans for education recovery for the nation’s pupils are inadequate and incomplete. Rarely has so much been promised and so little delivered."
She said the money announced today was way below the £15 billion that Sir Kevan Collins, the education recovery commissioner, judged to be needed to repair the damage done to the nation’s pupils because of Covid.
She added: "Where in these plans is the funding for extra-curricular activities to support children and young people to regain their confidence in their abilities and talents? Where is the funding for drama and music, sport and skills development?
"The Treasury has shown, in this paltry offer, that it does not understand, nor does it appreciate, the essential foundation laid by education for the nation’s economic recovery.
"Its failure, on this scale, to fund what is needed for education recovery, is a scar which will take generations of children and young people to heal. They, their parents and our nation deserve much better than this."