Education chiefs slam Boris Johnson over 'poorly targeted' school catch-up fund

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  • June 19, 2020
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Education leaders have hit out at a “poorly targeted” billion-pound fund from the Government to help children whose studies have been affected by school closures under lockdown.

Most of the fund will be given evenly to state primary and secondary schools for children of all backgrounds, while the most disadvantaged students will get the remaining £350 million to pay for private tutors.

But education sector leaders slammed the decision not to give any money to nurseries or colleges, whose students are most in need of support, they say.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said it was “indefensible” to overlook the needs of the 700,000 students in tens of thousands of colleges across the country.

Boris Johnson at a school visit on Friday (PA)

He added: “They deserve as much support to overcome the challenges thrown up by Covid-19 as every other age group, including their peers in schools.

I expect their exclusion from this announcement to be followed rapidly by clarification on the funding and support for college students.

“We are in contact with the Department for Education and hope to have this rectified as soon as possible.”

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association, has accused the Government of failing young children “who are most in need of support in their early development”.

She went on: “The Government must now show that it takes a child’s early learning seriously and invest urgently to support young children and ensure nurseries are sustainable to support families before it’s too late.”

David Laws, executive chair of the Education Policy Institute think tank, said the plan was “poorly targeted”.

Referring to children in nurseries and college students, the former Liberal Democrat minister added: “These phases are crucially important yet they have suffered from persistent funding neglect over a sustained period of time.”

Children in a London primary school (PA)

The news comes as Mr Johnson said he wanted all students to be back in schools full-time in autumn.

He told reporters during a school visit in Hertfordshire: “I want a world in which, as far as possible, provided we can make classrooms safe, and I think we can, I want every child, every pupil, every student, back in September. I’m sure we can get it done.”

Mr Johnson also hinted that the two-metre social distancing rule could be cut, saying: “watch this space”.

But sector and union leaders said they had been left without enough information to prepare for children to return to school full-time.

A child waiting outside a primary school in London (Reuters)

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said there was an “information black hole” from the Government.

Mr Barton added that head teachers are now preparing for two possible ways of managing schools in the autumn – using rotas to stagger the return of pupils or bringing students back full-time.

Meanwhile Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The Prime Minister’s hopes are not enough.”

“If the requirements of social distancing – in order to stop a second peak – are reduced even to 1m, then most schools could not have 30 children in a classroom,” he added.