25.We received written evidence from a number of research bodies indicating that disadvantaged children had suffered most as a result of the disruption to schooling. A survey by the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that, on average, students from disadvantaged backgrounds spent less time on remote learning and were less likely to have access to online classes, home technology and a quiet study space. The Institute for Social and Economic Research also found that children in the most advantaged families, who had their own computer, spent more time on school work than disadvantaged children, who had to share a computer.
26.Evidence from the National Foundation for Educational Research, based on estimates by teachers in July 2020, indicated that on average the learning gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers had increased by 46%. Teachers in the most deprived schools were also over three times more likely to report that their pupils were four months or more behind in their curriculum-related learning, compared with teachers in the least deprived schools. Interim findings from the Department’s own research found that pupils in secondary schools with high levels of free school meal eligibility experienced 2.2 months of reading learning loss, compared with 1.5 months in schools with low levels of eligibility.
27.We challenged the Department on why it had not set basic expectations for schools’ provision during the 2019/20 summer term. It highlighted that the circumstances had been unprecedented, and that schools had been asked to work in entirely new ways, remaining open to vulnerable children and children of critical workers but closing to other children. In this context, the Department had felt it was right to relieve pressure on schools and “ask less, not more in that moment”. The Department explained that it had also needed to learn what good looked like under those circumstances, and that it would have been a challenge early in the pandemic to set out expectations that were well founded. However, it conceded that in hindsight, if it had understood how long the period of disruption would last, it might have done something different in the expectations it had set out.
28.In June 2020, to help make up for the learning that children had lost during the disruption to schooling, the Department announced £1 billion of funding for a catch-up learning programme. The programme includes a £650 million universal catch-up premium allocated to schools on a per-pupil basis, and a £350 million National Tutoring Programme (NTP) targeted at disadvantaged children. The Department set out a further £700 million in February 2021, including: a £302 million ‘recovery premium’ for schools; a further £200 million to expand the tutoring programme and support language development in early years settings; and £200 million for secondary schools to provide summer schools for those pupils who need it most.
29.The Department told us that it was determined that the catch-up learning programme should address the widening attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers. For example, it explained that its focus for the ‘academic mentors’ scheme was on schools with a high number of pupils eligible for free school meals. In addition, it said that, while the 2020/21 catch-up premium was based on overall pupil numbers, the 2021/22 recovery premium funding would be based on numbers of pupils eligible for pupil premium and thereby explicitly targeted at deprivation.
30.We asked the Department how it would know that the catch-up programme was working. It said that evaluation would be a central part of the development of the NTP, and that success would be achieved if the schemes reached large numbers of children who would benefit from tutoring and if those children made significant progress as a result. The Department has commissioned independent evaluations of the NTP ‘tuition partners’ and academic mentors schemes, and an independent research study into how schools are using catch-up premium funds. However, the Department did not tell us more precisely what indicators it would use to judge the effectiveness of individual schemes or the catch-up programme as a whole.
31.The Department told us that past evaluations by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) had shown that tutoring programmes could help children make between three and five months’ progress in their learning. The Department has provided £80 million for the NTP tuition partners scheme in 2020/21. The scheme is aimed at disadvantaged children and covers 75% of the costs of one-to-one and small group tuition, with schools funding the remainder of the costs. The scheme is being led by EEF and tutoring is provided by 33 tuition partners. The Department expects the scheme to reach between 200,000 and 250,000 children in the 2020/21 school year.
32.The Department said that tutoring had the potential to be an important and lasting part of the educational landscape. However, it acknowledged that the tutoring market was developing, and that securing enough tutors and developing the workforce was a challenge for providers. It accepted that it was difficult to get access to good-quality tutoring provision in the places where it was most needed, but it believed that a benefit of establishing a large national programme and therefore a demand for tutors would be the creation of tutoring capacity in places where there might not otherwise be any. The Department told us that individuals did not need to have teaching qualifications in order to become a tutor, but explained that it wanted there to be a minimum quality standard so that schools had access to good-quality provision. It said that EEF had assessed every tutoring provider that had applied to be part of the scheme.
33.Although the tuition partners scheme is intended to support disadvantaged children, the Department has not specified what proportion of children accessing the scheme should be eligible for pupil premium. At February 2021, just 44% of children receiving tuition were eligible for pupil premium funding, raising questions over whether the scheme would reach the most disadvantaged children. We also received written evidence which raised concerns over whether the scheme was large enough to reach potentially between 1.2 million and 2 million children in need of support.
34.Alongside the NTP tuition partners scheme, the Department is funding an academic mentors scheme led by Teach First, which aims to place between 1,000 and 1,200 mentors in disadvantaged schools in the 2020/21 school year. However, at February 2021, more than 600 schools who had requested a mentor had not been given one. The Department said that Teach First had done well in recruiting mentors so far, but accepted that schools had made more requests for mentors than the scheme was able to meet. It said that this demonstrated the challenge of recruiting enough mentors, and told us that it wanted to increase the number of mentors in future years.
45 COE0029 Institute for Fiscal Studies submission, page 2
46 COE0027 Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex submission, page 2
47 COE0025 National Foundation for Educational Research submission, page 5
48 C&AG’s Report, para 3.5
49 Qq 46–48
50 C&AG’s Report, paras 3.7–3.8
51 C&AG’s Report, para 3.19
52 Q 72
53 Qq 91–92; C&AG’s Report, paras 3.12 and 3.14
54 Qq 68, 92
55 C&AG’s Report, para 3.15 and Figure 8
56 Q 88
57 Qq 95–96
58 Q 97
59 Qq 98–103
60 C&AG’s Report, para 3.15
61 COE0013 Professor Lee Elliot-Major and Mr Andrew Eyles submission, page 7
62 C&AG’s Report, para 3.16
63 Qq 93–94