CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Covid ‘catch-up’ money for pupils branded ‘insulting and derisory’

‘£1.5bn is a tenth of what the government said was required,’ say union and school heads

11 June, 2021

John Hayes outside Gospel Oak school

HEADTEACHERS and the leader of Camden’s main teaching union have criticised the government’s funding offer for pandemic “catch-up” lessons as “insulting”.

Ministers announced last week that £1.4bn would be given to schools to pay for sessions and extra resources to help pupils regain lost ground during the Covid pandemic.

The cash was a fraction of the £15bn that had been recommended by Sir Kevan Collins, who was brought in to look into what would be needed.

John Hayes, the headteacher at Gospel Oak Primary School in Mansfield Road, said the offer was “insulting and derisory”, adding: “For our children this is as important as furlough has been for their parents. It’s as important as test and trace and if you look at the sums of money spent in these areas by government, this is miles away from what it should be.

“It’s a tenth of what they said was required. It’s just not going to be close to enough – it’s not what we were led to expect.”

His comments were echoed by Gerald Clark, branch secretary of Camden’s National Education Union (NEU), who said: “The government has repeatedly said they know how badly affected children have been and how disrupted their education has been. I’m surprised, although part of me ceases to be surprised by anything that this government does. Compared to other countries it’s nowhere near the same level.”

Both said the funding came amid an environment of “inadequate” funding for education over the past decade and called for significantly more money to be put into the per-pupil cash allocation.

Gary Moore, headteacher at Regent High Secondary School in Somers Town, said he wanted to see the money put into the pupil premium funding – extra money given to schools to support disadvantaged children.

The school in Chalton Street will be running a summer school in July. “The focus for me as a school and nationally will always be the disadvantaged pupils, and the best way for that is through pupil premium,” he said.

“It’s a scheme that’s already there and it works. What works for a school on the south coast, or the north-east, like summer schools or extending the school day, or tutoring, won’t work for every school. My worry is this extra funding won’t target the kids who need it the most.”

Concerns were raised about the idea of extending the school day, although Mr Moore told the New Journal that the idea could be used to get five minutes extra in each lesson without too much impact on pupils or staff – rather than a bolt-on addition to the end of the day.

Camden’s education chief Labour councillor Angela Mason said the government’s plans were “not well thought out”. She added that the council was organising a summer programme of events.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The prime minister is hugely grateful to Sir Kevan for his work in helping pupils catch up and recover from the effects of the pandemic. The government will continue to focus on education recovery and making sure no child is left behind with their learning, with over £3bn committed for catch-up so far.”

But no funding promises from shadow chancellor

LABOUR’S shadow chancellor made no pledges to increase per-pupil funding for schools during a visit to Somers Town yesterday (Wednesday).

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and shadow early years minister Tulip Siddiq with pupils at Edith Neville school

Although financial problems are mounting for a number of schools, Rachel Reeves said it was too early to make manifesto commitments. She was visiting Edith Neville Primary School with the party’s shadow education secretary Kate Green and Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq, who is Labour’s early years lead.

Their appearance was days after the resignation of Sir Kevan Collins over his Covid-19 “catch-up” plans. Labour has announced its own £14.7bn “recovery” programme.

“Labour will not be announcing its plans for the next manifesto until closer to the election,” said Ms Reeves.

“But I think [our recovery programme] is the biggest commitment that Labour has made during Keir Starmer’s leadership and the fact that commitment is around schools and children shows where Labour’s priorities are, which is to make sure children aren’t the biggest losers from this pandemic.”

In 2019 the party promised £10.5bn extra funding for the schools budget by the end of this parliament.

Ms Reeves added: “What we’ve seen over the last 10 years, the biggest reduction in funding in schools for 40 years, that has meant schools, including here in Somers Town, are in a perilous situation.” Ms Green said she would be “bending the ear” of her colleague to try and secure more funding promises.

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