Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, and Andy Eyles from the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, say funding decisions in 2020 were a missed opportunity to level-up.
National Tutoring Programme will need to support ten times current numbers of pupils to reach all disadvantaged children, experts warn
The Government’s National Tutoring Programme to help children affected by pandemic school closures will need to reach at least ten times the current numbers of pupils being supported to help all disadvantaged young people, experts have warned.
The researchers have also said the Government should have adopted a more targeted approach to education catch up funding given out last year, so it was focused on poorer children.
In a submission to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, and Andy Eyles from the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, say funding decisions in 2020 were a missed opportunity to level-up.
They say the £1billion catch-up fund directed for general school funding and the National Tutoring Programme should have prioritised schools with high proportions of pupils on free school meals, or been specifically directed to help poorer children.
As of February 2021, 125,000 pupils had signed up for tutoring, with a target to reach 250,000 pupils by the end of the academic year. The Government hopes that the programme will support 524,000 pupils in 2021 and 2022 and 650,000 for the following two years.
The researchers say that targeting should extend beyond those conventionally classed as disadvantaged. While disadvantage typically refers to those eligible for free school meals - around 1.2 million pupils – Professor Elliot Major and Mr Eyles estimate the initial period of school closures led to around 2 million pupils having no schooling at all during the first lockdown period.
Next week MPs will question senior officials at the Department for Education on how well it managed its overall response in the first lockdown.
Professor Elliot Major said: “In the future, any attempts to improve education prospects in the wake of the pandemic will need to be highly targeted to benefit the most disadvantaged pupils. This is our opportunity to think big: doubling pupil premium funds for disadvantaged pupils and establishing the national tutoring programme as a permanent fixture of the education system.
“An opportunity was missed in failing to create an explicit target to focus these efforts on the most disadvantaged pupils. Highly targeted approaches will be required to address the stark educational inequalities exposed and exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. This could have been achieved by prioritising schools with high proportions of children on free school meals for example, or supporting only pupils on free school meals in all schools.
“The first year of the programme should be seen as an establishment phase, providing lessons for rollout over future years. No one no one should underestimate the time it takes to establish such an initiative.”
This catch up fund represented the flagship programme attempting to address learning loss, particularly among disadvantaged learners. It included a one-off £650 million catch up premium allocated to all schools during the 2020-21 academic year, alongside a £350 million National Tutoring Programme.
Mr Eyles said: “The evidence shows that pupils eligible for free school meals, those educated at state schools, and, more generally, those from less affluent backgrounds, suffered learning losses at a much greater rate than their more affluent peers.
“Trials have found that individual tutoring to disadvantaged pupils, delivered online by university students, can have strikingly large effects on test scores. This makes it all the more important that the National Tutoring Programme should be targeted to help the most disadvantaged children in particular.”
The researchers say there is scope for the current national tutoring programme to support larger numbers of pupils. This could include the wider recruitment the university students and graduates across the country as set out in a proposed national tutoring service.
Professor Elliot Major said: “This must be seen as just the start of a hugely ambitious drive over the next decade to level up the education playing field. A whole generation could be scarred by this pandemic. This is our opportunity to think big: doubling pupil premium funds for disadvantaged pupils and establishing the national tutoring programme as a permanent fixture of the education system. Any attempts to improve education prospects in the wake of the pandemic will need to be highly targeted to benefit the most disadvantaged pupils.”
Professor Elliot Major and Mr Eyles’ research on coronavirus and social mobility is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19.
In April 2020, Professor Elliot Major co-authored a paper proposing a national tutoring service to help tackle stark education gaps in the wake of the Covid-19 school closures.
Date: 24 March 2021