'Badly targeted' £80 per-pupil catch-up cash 'unlikely' to stop learning gap widening

The government’s £650m catch-up cash is “badly targeted” and “unlikely to prevent a widening” of the learning gap between poorer pupils and their peers, a think tank has said.

Schools will be allocated money from the DfE’s Covid “catch-up fund” on the basis of £80 per pupil, the government confirmed today.

It means schools will get the same cash regardless of the characteristics of their intake. Research shows poorer pupils are much more likely to have missed out on learning during the pandemic.

It’s also emerged the government’s new national tutoring programme won’t start until the “second half of the autumn term”.

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said while a per-pupil allocation for the catch-up cash “will take account of the size of the school … [it] is unlikely to reflect the scale of the challenge faced”.

“Schools serving the most deprived communities may find that additional funding may not go far enough to address the true cost of this crisis. It may yet be the case that their children will need additional support from government, once schools have had the chance to assess the needs of all their pupils.”

The allocation means a 1,000-pupil secondary school will receive £80,000 and a 200-pupil primary school will receive £16,000.

The DfE said funding would be allocated on the basis of £80 per pupil, and confirmed heads can “can decide how best to use their schools’ premium allocation to tackle the impact of lost teaching time on their pupils”

However, leaders are “encouraged to spend it on evidence-driven approaches including small group or one-to-one tuition, support over the summer, or additional support for great teaching”.

But David Laws, executive chairman of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said the cash is “badly targeted and is unlikely to prevent a widening of the learning gap between children from poor backgrounds and other pupils.

“It is concerning that the government has missed an opportunity to target extra funding to where it is most urgently needed. At a time when social mobility was already in danger of stalling, and with COVID significantly worsening the learning outlook for poor children, today’s decision could prove to be a costly mistake.”

Meanwhile news the new tutoring scheme won’t start until later in the autumn term is likely to disappoint headteachers.

The government has already come under fire for a sluggish in setting up schemes amid the pandemic. The tutoring delay also comes after prime minister Boris Johnson promised a “massive catch-up operation” for pupils over the summer, which hasn’t surfaced.

The DfE has also announced that teacher training organisation Teach First has joined a coalition of charities that will receive investment via the national tutoring programme and will help recruit “academic mentors”, who will provide one-to-one and small-group tutoring in schools serving disadvantaged communities.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said the catch-up cash means the government is “leaving no stone unturned in levelling up opportunities for every young person up and down the country”.