Covid catch-up strategy not ‘integrated’ enough, and 6 other things we learned at education committee


Ministers’ catch-up strategy is not “integrated” enough, and “long-term” reform is needed to help pupils in the wake of the Covid pandemic, the government’s education recovery commissioner has said.

Sir Kevan Collins, the former chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation recently recently appointed to lead the government’s catch-up efforts, gave evidence to the parliamentary education committee this morning.

He was joined by Professor Becky Francis, EEF’s current chief executive and Geoff Barton, general secretary of heads’ union ASCL.

Here’s what we learned.


1. Government catch-up strategy not ‘integrated’ enough

The government has pledged a number of initiatives to aid catch-up in the short-term, such as a Covid recovery premium and funding for summer schools.

But Collins told MPs this morning there wasn’t “enough of an integrated strategy”.

“The summer package that was announced last week is a good start but it’s not a recovery plan, we need to go much further with some more fundamental, long term pieces of work.”

Collins said creating the government’s recovery approach was a “long term sustained piece of work” that will go on throughout this Parliament, which is due to end in 2024.

This is needed because recovery efforts have identified “underlying scars and issues” in the system.

“The disadvantaged children, we’ve seen what’s happened in terms of their learning loss, so we need to see this as not just tackling the recovery but actually a longer term piece of reform.

Sir Kevan Collins
Sir Kevan Collins

“I know that [from] my conversations here in taking on this post with the secretary of state and with the prime minister, that’s their ambition.”


2. Schools should use Covid premium to support ‘diagnostic assessment’

Collins said he is “encouraging” schools to think about using their Covid premium to support “diagnostic assessment”.

“I know it’s not particularly sexy but I think it’s something we really need to work hard on now,” he told MPs.

“Great diagnostic assessments, in all year groups, so you can inform the adjustments you need to make to the curriculum in September.”

The government is looking at spending £4m on catch-up resources, possibly including diagnostic tests. But as Schools Week revealed last week, the catch-up materials may take the form of “printable” documents.


3. ‘No trust’ for additional national test

Collins was asked whether a national test could be used to gather lost learning data this summer.

But he warned against linking any test to the schools accountability framework.

He said he was all for “good diagnostic assessment”, and said technology could make it more streamlined and less burdensome.

“In many countries you have national assessments and you draw a random sample of children, that gives you the picture of what is going on in your own system.”

However, he warned there was not enough trust to allow government to “lay another test on that people would say ‘this isn’t going to come back and bite me’.”

“I do think we need to rebuild confidence in assessment for children and for learning rather than the assessment which sometimes has been crudely used for accountability.”


4. Tutoring should become a ‘fixture and fitting’

The panel were asked about whether the National Tutoring Programme should become a permanent fixture or how long it would take to “achieve catch-up”.

Collins said tutoring should become a long term “fixture and fitting” in the education “experience”.

But he wants to make sure it’s available for “every child”, and said a “broader range of people” should come together to be the providers.

Professor Becky Francis

“I think community groups are really well placed to be part of the providers absolutely.”

Francis said she was “really encouraged” that the government is looking at the NTP for the long term, as Schools Week reported last week.

“We do think it is a legacy project for disadvantaged kids… and it supports the long term recovery programme,” she said.


5. ‘Tutoring gaps could still exist’

Francis said she was “sure” there would “still be a gap” between the amount of private tutoring bought by more advantaged families and the amount provided to poorer pupils through the NTP.

She said previously 40 per cent of more advantaged students had been able to access private tuition, and added: “I can only imagine that will have likely gone up during the pandemic”.

“There is a question on the resource for disadvantaged pupils but I am really proud and encouraged that we are offering them some high quality tuition here.”


6. Ensuring school attendance could be more impactful

Francis said there could be more of a benefit to looking at attendance and “making sure that disadvantaged kids are attending school” than in measures to extend learning time.

“Actually the value for money there and impact on results may be better than simply extending school, whether for disadvantaged students or all”.

Collins said it was up to schools to decide who should attend summer schools planned by the government. He also said he hoped schools could link the scheme with the holiday activity and food programme, which is being expanded nationwide this year.

tutoring behaviour mobile phone
Geoff Barton

Barton said when he ran summer schools it was “pretty much the same young people who attended it, it was the ones whose parents could drop them off etc”.


7. ‘Drive harder’ on opportunity areas

Committee chair MP Robert Halfon asked whether it would be better to spend the £100 million in funding for opportunity areas on “recruiting leaders and teachers in those disadvantaged areas”.

Collins said it had proved “extraordinarily difficult” to “mobilise the assets in those places”, but added they are “very varied” areas.

“I think we need to stick with it, I think we need to put some serious resources and effort into those areas if we are going to shift them.

“Opportunity areas is a programme that I personally think we should drive harder on, because that’s where the real need is.”

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  1. Janet Downs

    The catch-up strategy fails on two counts: not enough emphasis on attendance in normal school and encouraging schools to rely on outsourcing catch-up provision.
    An OECD report* found pupils who do well in PISA tests spend MORE time on average in normal school lessons and LESS time, on average, in after-school classes. On the other hand, it found after-school classes with a teacher from the school could ‘enhance equity’ but classes with a teacher who’s not from the school ‘can exacerbate inequities among students.’

    *PISA in Focus 3 ‘Does investing in after-school classes pay off?’ (Caveats: performing well in PISA isn’t the sole judge of education quality. Report was published in 2014.)

  2. Felicity

    The government and others are suggesting ways of educating children in certain ways in order to ‘ make up for lost time’.
    The BBC News online on Tuesday 9th February in an article by Oliver Barneshas outlined five of ‘ their’ including shorter holidays and extended school days.
    FIRSTLY surely the children and THEIR well being should be considered?
    Their well being and mental health and what is BEST for them and how they have been impacted by COVID and its issues since March 2020 including differences within schools and home schooling etc is vital.
    This includes ACCURATE knowledge of and consideration of their attitudes towards learning and school. Plus what is best for them to be ‘ subjected’ to when they go back to school.
    Have the CHILDREN been asked or listened to ?
    How do THEY view longer days after ALL of the changes and differences in the past year with their education ?
    What do they enjoy most in school and have missed most ? Seeing their friends ? Some activities at school eg play time, football, art…..?
    Or more academic work and pressures ?
    The government are considering funding in various ways. Some of this might include trained or possibly untrained university students ( proposed by Professor Lee Major Elliot).
    GL Assessment which is a leading provider of formative assessments
    ( eg CAT4) to UK schools and more has already produced the PASS assessment
    ( Pupils’ Attitudes to Self and School) plus a Collection of Interventions, a Bank of Additional Strategies.
    The PASS assessment ( for ages 4 years to 18 years) is a nationally benchmarked psychometric assessment specifically designed to spot attitudinal or emotional issues in children and would be a useful tool to help children settle back into school life and track how they re – acclimatise over the months ahead. It takes just 20 minutes and is available in 26 languages. It pinpoints and measures issues and who is needing intervention / what type of intervention and who is ” at risk ” etc.
    ” Coming back into school for some pupils will be an anxious time”.
    This assessment could help teachers ” understand their pupils mindset as they come back to school and if they are confident, ready and motivated to learn”.
    ” When pupils return to school after lockdow it is likely that their attitudes to themselves and their learning will have been impacted by the prolonged period of remote learning. Some pupils may have become disengaged and lost confidence, some may have adapted to independent working , got used to a different way of learning, others may have been through a period of heightened anxiety”.
    To date GL Assessment have made assessments and cncluded that there has been a bigger impact in Primary over Secondary schools. Also that children on free school meals do NOT appear to have been more adversely affectected than their peers in the core subjects…….
    Surely to assess the children ACCURATELY is paramount. Experienced tutors could be used within schools to help and support children while teachers assess their pupils with an assessment like PASS and then plan / use interventions like those fromGL Assessment . Experienced tutors could help to teach, including small groups or individuals and could e used to work alongside teachers under their ‘ guidance ‘.

  3. Felicity

    The government and various ministers who are considering what to do over education are mostly wighout any knowledge and understanding of teaching children espeially those of different ages and types of schools eg. Primary, Secondary, Special etc. The majority in government and others who are considering this whether Boris Johnson, Gavin Williamson, OFSTED, Professor Lee Elliot Major, Robert Halfon or others have never taught or worked with a hild / children / a class / within a school.
    They have focused on education / different schooling and the possible impacts academically etc due to COVID issues and what they think plus with their own agendas.
    To date they appear to not to have acted upon the results from the PISA results ( 2018) reported on in December 2019, especially the key insights for the UK in ‘ well being and performance ‘. Also the severe criticisms of the PISA
    ‘ boss’ Andreas Schleicher who particularly hi – lighted the well being and performance of children in the UK . More than the very low results still in reading, maths and science He stated in 2018 that there was a large, too large a percentage of ‘ miserable’ children who could ” see no future” ……
    As reported in The Guardian ( 3rd Dec 2019) ” Those in the UK had the biggest decline in life satisfactionsince its last survey in 2015″.
    Kevin Courtney ( stated ” PISA findings should be a wake – up call to the government that its policies are taking education in England in the wrong direction”
    ” PISA finds a clear link between successsful education systems and pupils’
    sense of belonging and life satisfaction”.
    ” Education should inspire”.