All ideas to address lost learning should be “on the table”, the government’s new catch-up tsar has said, after the prime minister failed to rule out extending the summer term.
Sir Kevan Collins, the former head of the Education Endowment Foundation, told BBC News that the government was “going to have to ask teachers to increase learning time for children” as it seeks to make up for the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. He also suggested some alteration to exam content next year may be needed.
It was reported over the weekend that ministers were considering options including lengthening the school day and extending the summer term into the six-week break in order to help pupils catch up, though some have suggested this could be done with the aid of volunteers, rather than by asking teachers to work additional hours.
Asked by Sky News earlier today whether he was considering extending term time, Boris Johnson did not rule it out, and said the government would set out “much more about what we’re going to do to help pupils catch up” in the week-commencing February 22.
He added that addressing lost learning was the “single biggest priority now for the government”, and said we had to work “flat-out as a country and as a society” to remedy the issue.
The prime minister pointed to the existing £1 billion catch-up investment pledged last year and £300 million extra for the National Tutoring Programme announced on January.
He said education secretary Gavin Williamson would be “setting out in more detail exactly what we want to do to help kids catch up and bounce back from this pandemic, because it’s going to take a while to do that”.
Not time to ‘rule things in or out’ says new commissioner
Collins was appointed as the government’s education recovery commissioner last week. It follows the decision in early January to partially close schools in response to rising infection rates across the country.
In an interview with BBC news today, Collins said “all the ideas” should be on the table.
“I don’t think it’s a time to rule things in or out,” he said. “I do think in the short term however we are going to have to think hard about the learning time available for children. They’ve missed a lot of time and we are going to have to quickly get new opportunities for those children to catch up.”
However, he cautioned against moving to early to determine “exactly what the picture will look like”, though he acknowledged the government would need to “act quite quickly around things like summer and summer schools for example, which I do think have promise”.
He also said it was important that extra time was given to other activities children had missed out on, besides learning. It comes amid growing concerns about pupils’ mental health.
“I think we need to think about the extra hours, not only for learning, but for children to be together, to play, to engage in competitive sport, for music, for drama, because these are critical areas of learning, not just the academics but these vital areas that have been I think missed by many children and will be missed in their growth and development,” Collins said.
“We need to make sure that whatever we offer children is broad, is rich and doesn’t completely stifle all the other things in life that matter. It’s going to be a broad I think and balanced offer that we need to make to children. But we do need to recover the lost time in some of the critical areas.”
Content of 2022 exams needs ‘consideration’
Asked about whether GCSE content in 2022 should be slimmed down, Collins said it wasn’t right for him to say “which bits of the curriculum we might need to slim down”.
But he acknowledged the exams would “need some kind of consideration and questions because you’r right the year 10 children this year have had a very disrupted period”.
“The year 11s as well, as they go onto A-levels or the year 13s go onto university, the teachers, the lecturers, those that are receiving and are going to support those children, are going to have to ask the question, ‘how do we think about the curriculum we are offering, to make sure we are giving those children the chance to go back perhaps and cover some of the stuff that might be vital in the subject but wasn’t perhaps completely covered because of lockdown’.”