Robert Halfon MP calls for special ‘catch up premium’ for schools to support disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils

Education: Secondary / Sun 12th Apr 2020 am30 10:11am

ROBERT Halfon, MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee today issues a stark warning that the Covid-19 lockdown is dealing a hammer blow to the UK’s most disadvantaged learners with school closures about to enter their second month.

Warning that a ‘wave of lost potential’ will come crashing down on the UK if nothing is done, Halfon calls on the government to commit money now to deliver a special ‘catch up premium’ of around £700 per pupil for schools to support disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils when they reopen.

Pinpointing the lack of digital access as one of the key reasons for the extra burden heaped on disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils by the shutdown, he also asks businesses across the UK to replicate the actions of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership businesses in donating laptops to challenged communities.

Halfon’s call is supported by Crossbench peer, Lord O’Neill, chair of the Northern Powerhouse and a member of the Shelter Social Housing Commission. Speaking of the challenges faced by millions of disadvantaged pupils and their families, Halfon says: “Learning for disadvantaged pupils under lockdown is harder for disadvantaged pupils than it is for their peers.

“Many live in challenging home learning environments. One headteacher mentioned that in the first two days of lockdown, they had made two referrals to social care following calls from the police about domestic violence at pupils’ homes. 55 per cent of teachers from the most disadvantaged schools think the average pupil in their class is learning for less than one hour a day. And many vulnerable children who are still allowed to attend school are just not turning up. While teachers do a brilliant job looking out for these children, some will inevitably fall through the net.

“The damage done to pupils when they are not learning is well known. And a strong body of literature suggests that school closures adversely affect disadvantaged pupils more than their peers; even relatively short absences, including over school holidays, can start to sap progress. ”

“All the hard work that has been done in recent years by parents, policy makers, charities, companies, philanthropists – the coil of progress they have wrapped tightly around the promise of a better future for these children – risks unravelling at a frightening pace.”

Emphasising that the problem is nationwide and requires a UK-wide solution, Halfon says one deputy head teacher in his own Harlow, Essex constituency recently told him that eight percent of his school’s pupils did not have access to the internet.

He says: “In this context, it seems clear that, if schools stay closed much longer and we do nothing more to support disadvantaged children, a wave of lost potential will come crashing down on them.”

He calls for a varied programme of interventions to help disadvantaged pupils including schools drawing on charities that specialise in tutoring disadvantaged learners. Noting that the Centre for Social Justice has already raised grave concerns about the existing attainment gap and the further damage Covid-19 will do, he says use should be made of its alliance of charities Action Tutoring and Tutor Trust.

Timely and relevant interventions would require roughly to 30 minutes tuition, 3-5 times a week, for 6-12 weeks in order to deliver confers around five additional months’ progress over a year. In total, such a programme would require about four days of teacher time – or around £700 per pupil.

Additionally, to help keep costs down, there would be the need to draw on impressive models in the charitable sector that utilise volunteers including students, retired individuals and corporate volunteers.

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