Ministers have promised schools worst-hit by the RAAC crisis extra cash so their teachers can run out-of-hours catch-up lessons – but who gets the extra funding is unclear.
Leaders of secondaries blighted by the crumbly concrete have been urging government to give their pupils grade allowances in this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams.
The Department for Education dismissed the calls, as it argued assessments “can only show what children know and can do”.
But leaders of two trusts that run heavily impacted schools have revealed the government has promised funding to help convince teachers to hold extra classes in the holidays.
Michael McCluskie, the director of education at Coast and Vale Learning Trust, said Scalby School in Yorkshire will receive £35,000 for catch-up sessions.
“It gives us a little bit of leeway in terms of negotiating with people to give up holidays,” he said. “On average, [pupils] have maybe lost one lesson per week.
“[But exams] are still a significant worry. The concern is if the results aren’t what we expect the children to achieve, parents will make their minds up about sending their children to the school.”
McCluskie added that officials only made the secondary aware of the option in December, shortly after its headteacher sent a letter to government demanding a return to pandemic marking.
He thinks additional sessions will be held in the February half-term and Easter for those studying PE, food technology, DT and engineering, as grade predictions “are much lower than expected”.
There will also be a “big push” on the core subjects – English, maths and science – “because that’s where the school’s performance will be judged”.
‘We’ve had to re-write the timetable’
Meanwhile Nick Hurn, who leads Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust, said he has formed a tutoring group of staff from across five of his secondaries to provide support to children at St Leonard’s in County Durham.
The sessions took place during the autumn half-term, but not over Christmas as “everyone, staff and students, were worn out by then”.
After-school lessons have been held this month, with more catch-up periods planned for the upcoming half-term.
“We’ve had to re-write the timetable umpteen times and will have to do so again because of the disruption,” he said. “The government has provided a lot of additional support, but at what cost to the people providing it? It’s draining.”
A report compiled by Durham University academics last week concluded that the youngsters at St Leonard’s are “around a grade lower than expected” in English and maths, having been moved to classes of 120 children.
The study, commissioned by Hurn to further calls for exam help, found timetable changes have “resulted in a 20-minute reduction in the curriculum time for each subject”.
The Bishop Wilkinson boss expects the bill for the extra classes – which are being held for the majority of subjects – to be in the tens of thousands.
“We’re talking about whole year groups [needing this support] now, so it’s the sheer scale of intervention that we’re having to do at the moment that’s expensive.”
RAAC schools need financial protection
School leaders’ union ASCL has called for RAAC schools hit by declining rolls to get financial protection, in its submission to the Treasury ahead of the Spring budget.
Schools Week revealed pupils were turning their back on affected schools last year. ASCL said its members are reporting “reduced admission applications for September. The impact of this will have a long tail and manifest in financial detriment at school level for many years.”
Guidance released in September told leaders of RAAC schools that “need additional help with revenue costs” to discuss them with the DfE “in the first instance to agree any further support”. Officials expected “all reasonable requests” to be approved.
An update published on the department’s education hub blog said officials are “working with schools and colleges to put in place a bespoke plan that supports all pupils based on their circumstances”.
For some, “this may include supporting them to provide extra education support for their pupils”.
“We’ve asked, where possible, for [awarding bodies] to agree longer extensions for coursework and non-examined assessments.”
When approached for comment about the RAAC catch-up costs, the department did not confirm how much funding has been offered or how many schools have been given cash through this channel.