Ministers’ plans to help pupils catch up on learning lost due to the Covid-19 crisis is likely to “fall at the first hurdle” because of a lack of funding, headteachers have warned.
The Department for Education has pledged £1.5bn for proposals that include 100 million extra tutoring hours for children in England and more funding for teacher training.
But school leaders said that the money would fall far short of the help needed for children who have faced two school years of disruption.
Other proposals to extend the school day – under review by Whitehall – could do “more harm than good” with pupils left exhausted and burnt out, they said.
Teaching unions were also joined by the government’s own education recovery commissioner, who said the amount of funding provided so far would not “meet the scale of the challenge”.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said: “The government must be mindful of the trade-offs and unintended consequences of any recovery idea being proposed.
“The marginal gains that might be possible through extending the school day must be weighed against the costs of such a strategy, including the impact on pupils’ mental health, reduced family time and less time for extra-curricular activities.
“The government could end up doing more harm than good by adding more classroom hours to children’s school day. The government must also realise that the success of any big ideas about recovery, including additional school hours, relies on equally ambitious funding from the Treasury.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said there was “much to welcome” in the plan around tuition and training, adding that “the devil will be in the detail of any extended day proposals”.
But he said: “What is most concerning is reports that the Treasury is thought to be offering only one-tenth of the money that is said to be needed for the recovery package.
“Frankly, if that is the case, then the plan is likely to fall at the first hurdle. It is hard to see how £1.5bn spread over three years could possibly deliver the proposals that have been outlined.”
Labour meanwhile said children needed to be given opportunities to “play, learn and develop” as part of any roadmap.
Boris Johnson said young people had “sacrificed so much over the last year” and said the plan would “support children who have fallen behind and that every child will have the skills and knowledge they need to fulfil their potential”.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said the government was “taking a long-term, evidence-based approach to help children of all ages”.
“I am incredibly proud it recognises the efforts and dedication of our teachers who are at the forefront of children’s recovery – making sure every teacher has the opportunity to access world-leading training, giving them the skills and tools to help every child they work with to fulfil their potential,” he said in a statement.
“The package will not just go a long way to boost children’s learning in the wake of the disruption caused by the pandemic but also help bring back down the attainment gap that we’ve been working to eradicate.”
The government’s plan also includes the option for some year 13 students to repeat their final year if they missed. Teachers and ministers agree a boost is necessary because of lost and disrupted school time due to Covid.
But Labour shadow education secretary Kate Green accused the Conservatives of “showing no ambition for children’s futures” as the party called for schools to be given additional resources to deliver the recovery support needed.
Under an alternative two-year £14.7bn plan outlined by Labour extra-curricular activities and breakfast clubs would be expanded to boost time for children to play and socialise after months away from their friends.
“Children are excited to be back in the classroom with their friends and hungry to learn. After such disruption, we owe it to them to match their energy and motivation with the support and resources they need to thrive, not just whilst they catch up, but for their school careers and beyond,” said Ms Green.
Responding to the government’s plan, she said: “This announcement makes a mockery of the prime minister’s claim that education is a priority.
“His own education recovery commissioner has all but said this plan is insufficient. Sir Kevan Collins told ministers that 10 times this level of investment was needed to help children recover.
“Labour has set out a bold plan that will provide new opportunities for all children to play, learn and develop post-pandemic. The government has let down children and families over the last year and the last decade and is set to do so again.”
Education recovery commissioner Sir Kevan Collins said: “The pandemic has caused a huge disruption to the lives of England’s children.
“Supporting every child to get back on track will require a sustained and comprehensive programme of support.
“The investments in teaching quality and tutoring announced today offer evidence-based support to a significant number of our children and teachers. But more will be needed to meet the scale of the challenge.”
Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “Creating an ambitious, sustainable recovery plan to support every pupil is a considerable challenge. The extension of tutoring for the most disadvantaged young people is crucial as it’s a highly cost-effective method of making up for lost learning. The focus on quality teaching, investing in the teaching profession and early years practitioners is also much needed.
“However, the proposed funding is only a fraction of what is required. Low-income students who have already been most heavily impacted by Covid-19 will be disadvantaged even more and overall standards, which have fallen dramatically, will be very slow to recover.
“Sir Kevan Collins is right that much more will be needed if we are to mitigate the long-term impact of the pandemic.”