Retired and inactive teachers should return to the classroom on a voluntary basis to help pupils to catch up on missed learning opportunities due to the coronavirus crisis, a new report suggests.
The Education Policy Institute (EPI) is proposing a one-year "National Catch Up Volunteer Scheme", in which experienced teachers would return to the profession for a "limited time" to support the most disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils.
It is also calling for all Ofsted inspections to be suspended until 2021, and for schools to receive new guidance to prevent a significant increase in exclusions and "off-rolling" of pupils when they return.
Coronavirus: Put ‘army’ of retired teachers into schools, says MP
Background: Class divide in online learning
The EPI's call for a national volunteer scheme follows a similar suggestion from Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, who recently said a volunteer "army" consisting of retired teachers and university graduates should be set up to support disadvantaged pupils in schools when the lockdown ends.
Coronavirus school closures: Helping disadvantaged pupils to catch up
In a policy paper published today, titled "Preventing the disadvantage gap from increasing during and after the Covid-19 pandemic", the EPI sets out a series of proposals for the government on the subject of reopening schools.
These include the launch of a one-year volunteer scheme for "retired and inactive" teachers, who would return to the profession to help prevent vulnerable pupils from falling behind.
The EPI suggests that these "experienced former teachers and leaders" could register their interest in volunteering by signing up to a "simple national website".
The report states: "The challenge of preventing vulnerable learners from falling behind is so great that in order to supplement this existing activity we propose a one-year National Catch Up Volunteer Scheme, in which retired and inactive teachers would come back into the profession on a voluntary basis for a limited time to help schools to support the most disadvantaged and vulnerable learners.
"We propose a simple national website where volunteers – who will be experienced former teachers and leaders – are able to register their interest and skills so that schools needing their help can contact them. Schools should receive travel cost reimbursement for volunteers.
"Volunteers can apply either to a school they know or opt to be allocated to the nearest school which particularly needs their expertise. This would reflect the recent and popular NHS volunteer scheme.
"This will help us to tap into the strong sense of social responsibility amongst those who teach and who have taught, and the desire these individuals have to contribute to a process of social and educational recovery from this pandemic."
The other proposals set out by the EPI include:
- Doubling Pupil Premium funding for one year, from September 2020, for pupils entering Year 1, Year 7 and Year 11.
- Doubling, for one year only, the Early Years Pupil Premium (costing £31 million).
- Allowing schools to make their own, evidence-based judgements about how best to use this extra funding for disadvantaged pupils.
- Suspending Ofsted inspections of schools until at least January 2021.
- Issuing new guidance to schools to prevent a significant increase in exclusions and "off-rolling" of pupils, as schools return.
- Reviewing the current plans for national examinations in 2020 and 2021.
Natalie Perera, executive director and head of research at the EPI, said: "EPI research shows that poorer children are already one and a half years of learning behind other students by age 16.
"Without action now, there is a real risk that this gap will increase significantly over the period ahead."
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The idea of a national teacher volunteer scheme, targeted at retired and returning teachers, who may want to give their time, could work well as a resource on which schools can draw.
"It is important that schools and colleges are left with the time and space to focus on the huge challenge of this ongoing crisis, rather than being burdened with the full weight of the accountability system, and we agree Ofsted inspections should be suspended until at least January 2021."
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: "The NEU endorses the idea that Ofsted should freeze new inspections until 2021. Inspections weren't fit for purpose before Covid-19 and they certainly won't be afterwards.
"Suspending Ofsted would be one important stepping stone to making sure schools can recapture time to work responsively with returning students and re-establish the positive relationships that generate inclusion and meaningful learning.
"Teachers tell us that the 'Ofsted effect' reduces their time to respond to students as individuals, and we can't afford that during Covid. Pushing students through overloaded syllabuses just isn't going to work after Covid."