Susannah Hardyman, CEO of education charity Action Tutoring discusses COVID-19 and the impact of school closures on children from less well-off backgrounds.
March 2020 marked a seismic shift in education, with schools nationwide closing their doors to all but the children of key workers and the most vulnerable, whilst grappling to implement online solutions in a bid to provide effective teaching and learning to pupils. The shift also prompted unprecedented demand from affluent parents for private tutoring – an industry with an annual income of over £2bn – keen to shield with online support their children from spring/summer learning loss.
But what about the 28% of pupils in state education deemed as disadvantaged – pupils who may not have access to high bandwidth broadband to facilitate remote learning and likely won’t have space to work in which to work easily in cramped accommodation. Currently every year 75,000 disadvantaged children leave school without basic qualifications in English and maths. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are not less academically able, but lack of access to tools and resources means currently only 41% of this group pass English and maths GCSEs, compared to 69% of all other pupils.
Motivation is also set to prove a challenge. We all know that it is far easier to engage with a pupil in person than it is to motivate them to work online, especially if their parents are not available to support and encourage them or that child is struggling academically. Forcing attendance of online sessions will, I believe, be highly difficult to enforce or even encourage.
Sadly, it seems inevitable that the current national crisis will further widen the attainment gap. While many schools are doing all they can now to mitigate this, and are proving themselves in so many ways as the fourth emergency service, disadvantaged children are going to need more support than ever before to catch up in the months to come. That support will no doubt need to take many forms, but tutoring is a well known, effective intervention that can play a big role in raising attainment.
As a key provider of school-based intervention programmes incorporating tutoring solutions provided free to disadvantaged pupils, Action Tutoring is calling on the government to provide catch up funding for disadvantaged pupils once schools are back to normal business in addition to the Pupil Premium funding. This could enable schools to provide extra support such as additional tuition for disadvantaged pupils – who are already 18 months behind their more affluent counterparts by the end of secondary schools – to help prevent them from falling even further behind. In the short term, Action Tutoring, along with other organisations, are lobbying the Department for Education to provide laptops and broadband access to those that need it to facilitate home learning more easily.
Whilst exams may have been scrapped for this year, learning is for life and not just for exams. Good standards in English and maths in particular are crucial to progressing well in further education, employment or training. Schools will be and are doing all they can safely to alleviate the immediate impact of the current crisis on their pupils. This crisis has seen an incredible outpouring of community spirit, whether through food banks or local groups setting up to look out for their neighbours. But COVID-19 is going to have a long lasting impact on society.
Volunteers and charities will be needed more than ever before, backed by the government, to help schools pick up the pieces and enable their pupils, whatever their background, to flourish in every way. The immediate volunteer and charity efforts are hugely encouraging but as many are saying, this is going to be a marathon not a sprint. Those efforts are surely going to be needed for a long time to come.
Over the last few years Action Tutoring has built up healthy reserves, which we are very thankful for at the moment. We are also grateful to our many funders who are standing with us through this period. However, we are facing a loss of income due to not being able to deliver in schools. Therefore, any donation would be very gratefully received to help us compensate for this and ensure we can be in a strong place to be ready to support our pupils as soon as we can safely do so.
We also hope to engage many more volunteers to ensure we can help these pupils get back to where they should be.
We are also working hard to prepare an online offering of our tutoring model. It’s still early days, but please do register your interest here if you would like to hear more about these developments.