'Up to £15bn needed' for Covid catch-up

Call for Sir Kevan Collins' work as recovery commissioner to be backed up by 'much larger' government funding levels

Catherine Lough

Covid and schools: Catch-up 'will cost £15bn'

Up to £15 billion will be needed to ensure that pupils catch up on lost learning caused by the pandemic, according to a new report.

The report from the Education Policy Institute think tank notes that current government plans "imply catch-up spending of about £1.7 billion or nearly £250 per pupil in England. Our analysis and international benchmarking implies that these plans need to be much larger to have a real chance of catching up on lost learning."


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It adds that "to put the planned additional expenditure into context, consider that the annual schools budget in England was about £48 billion in 2020-21" and that in one scenario, pupils have missed out on about three to four months of learning.

"In other words, we’d normally spend about £12 billion to £16 billion delivering this, or in the range of about £1,500 or £2,000 per pupil," it says.

Covid and schools: Catch-up 'requires much more funding'

The report notes that the latest analysis by the EPI for the Department for Education showed that many pupils had already experienced as much as three months of lost learning by the autumn term, with further losses likely following another period of remote learning in early 2021.

"Our judgement is that £10 billion to £15 billion would represent a useful benchmark or guide for the required scale of an education recovery package to help pupils catch up on lost learning in England. This is based on what we’d normally spend, the academic evidence on the effects of spending and the plans of other countries," it says.

In March, the government's education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, said that the planned multi-million-pound support for young children who have faced Covid-19 disruption was “not sufficient”.

The EPI's report notes that, without funding and intervention, pupils today could face long-term consequences as a result of lost learning, such as lost lifetime earnings of 1 per cent in an optimistic scenario, 2.4 per cent in central scenarios and 3.4 per cent in a pessimistic scenario.

The EPI has published its preliminary analysis today to inform the government’s recovery plans over the coming weeks. A final EPI report, which sets out a precise long-term funding package and proposes a series of policy recommendations on catch-up interventions, will be published in May.

Responding to the findings, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Before the Treasury throws up its hands in horror at these sums of money, let’s just remember that this would be spread across some 8.2 million pupils over three years. A £15 billion investment works out at about £610 per pupil per year – which is hardly an excessive ask, given the scale of disruption caused by the pandemic.

“We are very supportive of the work of Sir Kevan Collins as education recovery commissioner and we look forward to seeing his recommendations in due course, but this has to be backed up with significant government funding. This report from the EPI gives the government a pretty good benchmark of what is required.

“It also makes the exceptionally good point that a recovery package must encompass early years and post-16 education. This is of vital importance and these sectors simply haven’t had anywhere near enough attention so far despite their obvious importance to the life chances of children and young people."

The report was also welcomed by Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teachers' union.

She said: “The educational divide has been growing over recent years. As the report points out, British education has been blighted by increasing child poverty and that left many children extremely vulnerable when the pandemic struck. 

“We agree with the report’s conclusions that overcoming the pandemic is possible and that it should serve as a catalyst for sustained improvements in education. The scale of learning lost cannot be overcome by some short-term, piecemeal measures such as catch-ups. This will require years of work and investment, not just in school but also extending the post-16 offer, which has been cut so hard over the last decade.” 

She added: “The report exposes the inadequacy of the government plan to spend just £250 per pupil on educational recovery, whereas the United States are spending £1,600 per pupil and the Netherlands £2,500." 

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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