Report exposes inadequacy of government's £250 per-pupil recovery funding

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Covid recovery: America is spending £1,600 per-pupil. The Netherlands is spending £2,500 per-pupil. England is spending £250 per-pupil. Pete Henshaw reports on the increasing pressure facing the UK government over recovery funding…

Pressure is building on education ministers to commit to a long-term funding package of as much as £15bn for schools to support Covid recovery efforts.

The figure has been put forward in a new analysis from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and has been welcomed by education unions and poverty experts.

The EPI says that between £10bn and £15bn spread across three years will be needed to properly fund the government’s “catch-up” commitments, taking into account both academic and wellbeing recovery.

So far, the government has announced recovery support plans totalling just £1.7bn for education in England – amounting to £250 per-pupil. And this notwithstanding the fact that not all of this money is going directly to schools, including as it does the National Tutoring Programme funding, which is being given to a select few tutoring companies.

The EPI analysis highlights that other nations are spending much more. The US has allocated $122bn in extra funding for schools (about £1,600 per pupil in K12 education). The Netherlands has announced the equivalent to £7bn – more than £2,500 per-pupil.

Previous analysis from the EPI has suggested that by the first half of the 2020 autumn term, pupils in England had experienced losses of up to two months in reading (in primary and secondary schools) and up to three months in maths (in primary schools). Based on this work, it suggests that after missing 23 weeks of face-to-face, normal schooling pupils may be an average of three to four months behind.

The EPI says that its proposed funding package should be targeted towards existing cost-effective, evidence-based interventions, centred around additional academic programmes, improved teacher quality and support, support for vulnerable pupils, and extra-curricular programmes.

It adds: “A recovery package must also encompass early years and post-16 education, as well as supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing.”

The analysis has been welcomed by school leaders and teaching professionals, who are still angry at the lack of additional funding to meet Covid-related costs and are calling once again on ministers to act.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has been calling for tens of thousands of pounds in Covid-related costs to be reimbursed and for a U-turn on technical changes to the Pupil Premium which have left schools millions of pounds out of pocket.

General secretary Paul Whiteman said: “Other countries have signalled heavy investment in young people and the services they require. Here schools have had very little help to defray the costs associated with the pandemic, while technical changes to the way the Pupil Premium is calculated has resulted in schools losing funding for those pupils that need most support. The nation’s children deserve better.”

He added that recovery is not going to be “a quick or easy job” with pupils needing both academic and a wide range of pastoral, mental health and wellbeing support.

“Unfortunately a simple return to ‘normal’ isn’t going to solve things. It will take a considerable long-term investment of time, money, energy and resources, which the government must recognise and provide.

“Poverty and disadvantage, poor wellbeing, SEND, discrimination and inequality are the fundamental issues harming children. These must be addressed by government if we are to make a real difference in the future.

“The government must commit to a school funding package that matches their education recovery pledge in ambition. But schools cannot pick up the pieces alone. Government must also invest in all the services needed to support a child’s whole life.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, pointed out that £15bn works out at about £610 per-pupil, per-year, “hardly an excessive ask given the scale of disruption caused by the pandemic”.

He added: “This report gives the government a pretty good benchmark of what is required. It also makes the exceptionally good point that a recovery package must encompass early years and post-16 education. This is of vital importance.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The scale of learning lost cannot be overcome by some short-term, piecemeal measures such as catch-ups. This will require years of work and investment, not just in school but also extending the post-16 offer which has been cut so hard over the last decade.

“The report exposes the inadequacy of the government plan to spend just £250 per-pupil on educational recovery, whereas the United States are spending £1,600 and the Netherlands £2,500.

“We agree schools need a multi-year £15bn plan but for the plan to succeed we must also end the blight of child poverty – no longer can we allow children to come to school hungry.”

And James Turner, CEO of the Sutton Trust, a charity dedicated to social mobility, said that our focus must be on the “disproportionate impact of school closures on poorer students”

He added: “The EPI research adds even more weight to the case for a significant programme of support over the course of this parliament. The recovery plan must be ambitious, long-term and multi-faceted. EPI is right to call for a major funding boost to reflect the scale of the challenge. Crucially, that needs to be focused on the most disadvantaged, who have felt the effects of the pandemic especially acutely.”

The EPI also warns that deeper problems in education must be addressed, pointing to its research last year showing that pre-Covid, the attainment gap had stopped closing.

Its report adds: “Prior to the pandemic, disadvantaged pupils in England were already 18 months of learning behind their more affluent peers by the time they took their GCSEs. This gap had started to widen a year before the onset of Covid-19. If the recovery package proves to be effective, then it should be sustained in the long-term to address pre-existing inequalities in education.

“The nature and scope and of the immediate recovery package required strongly supports the need for a multi-year settlement. To enable activities, interventions and plans to begin from September 2021, this multi-year package will need to be put in place soon, well before the coming Spending Review this autumn.”

The EPI analysis also shows that £1b to £1.5bn catch up funding will be required to support pupils in Scotland, £600m to £900m in Wales, and £350m to £500m in Northern Ireland.

A final EPI report, which will set out “a precise long-term funding package” and a series of policy recommendations on recovery interventions, is to be published in May.

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