News & Insights 20 November 2020

Policy update: November 2020

Government launches flagship scheme to tackle COVID learning-loss

The government has now launched its multi-million-pound effort to help disadvantaged pupils catch up on learning they’ve lost during the pandemic through the National Tutoring Programme. Action Tutoring, now an official provider under the programme, was closely involved in campaigning for catch-up provision and is glad that the strong evidence for tuition boosting pupils’ progress has been recognised.

The full list of 33 providers – who underwent a lengthy assessment process – was published earlier in November. It includes charities like the Tutor Trust, The Access Project, CoachBright and Brilliant Club, as well as private tutoring firms. Pupils access tuition when their school approaches any of the official tuition partners, who must deliver at least 15 sessions for each pupil this year to access the funding. The provision will be heavily subsidised for schools, who will contribute 25% of the cost. The Department for Education has issued a notice calling for ideas on how to extend the programme as they look to make a decision on its future.

The pandemic has significantly affected children and young people of all ages, worsening existing inequalities. We know that efforts to repair the damage must continue beyond summer 2021 if the NTP is to have a significant legacy and make a sustained difference. The Fair Education Alliance is calling on the government to extend the NTP and our CEO, Susannah, has co-signed a letter to the prime minister calling for an extension. The 2020 Spending Review will conclude next week and could offer some additional funds for catch-up in 2020–21.

If you are curious to learn more about the NTP, like which subjects are covered or the quality criteria used to assess providers, check out the NTP website.

The campaign against holiday hunger

You may have been following the high-profile campaign to provide free meals outside term time to school children from low-income families. The fact that so many children and families rely on free school meals is heartbreaking and the pandemic has worsened deprivation, with hundreds of thousands more children becoming eligible this year.

The campaign has been driven forward by 23-year-old footballer Marcus Rashford, alongside charities and think tanks focussed on alleviating child poverty. The campaign already saw great success when the government changed its course and provided meals over the summer holidays, having previously said that increased welfare was reaching these families via other routes.

Rashford launched a petition to expand support further, which gathered over a million signatures. However, the government voted against extending free meals over the half-term break, prompting an overwhelming public response and many businesses and councils stepping forward to offer free lunches.

On 8th November, in a victory for campaigners and children in need, the government changed its position and announced a large support package to address hunger – including a £220 million extension of the holiday activities and food programme in 2021 and a £170 million winter grant scheme to help families facing hardship pay for food and bills.

Of course, questions remain over how the additional funding will be deployed effectively to reach those with greatest need, and how holiday hunger will be addressed beyond the pandemic. Holiday hunger and the considerable need for free school meals is not a new issue in 2020. Important charities, like the Trussell Trust and Magic Breakfast, work hard to deliver nutritious meals to disadvantaged children year round, so nothing gets in the way of them learning and flourishing.

What will happen to exams?

Last summer, the cancellation of exams and the alternative grades awarded had a big impact on young people. Already affected by the pandemic, GCSE and A Level pupils were heading into an uncertain future, without having had the chance to obtain the grades they’d worked for – many not equipped to make alternative plans or navigate the appeals system.

Elsewhere in the UK, in light of how much education has been affected, governments have already taken the decision to cancel exams in 2021. GCSE and A Level exams in Wales will be replaced with classroom assessment and National 5 exams in Scotland will be replaced with teacher assessment and coursework. Meanwhile, in England exams are still set to go ahead, although three weeks later than usual. A survey conducted by LSE suggested strong public support for exam reform, to ensure the 2021 cohort are treated fairly. After a consultation earlier this year, exams regulator Ofqual has made a number of small modifications to how certain subjects will be assessed.

The Education Policy Institute has made some practical recommendations to help make exams fair and deliverable, like offering pupils choices between questions if they’ve not covered a topic and spacing out papers as much as possible. The report also offers a contingency, including more standardised mock exams as a fallback. Action Tutoring volunteers will be working with pupils for as long as possible this year, supporting them to get them back on track in their subject and improve in confidence, regardless of how or when their learning is assessed.

Additional reading…

The impact of lockdown on attainment
Research suggests that disruption to schooling during the pandemic has already resulted in a significant decline in attainment among pupils. In particular, younger year groups and those eligible for the Pupil Premium have shown the largest average declines in attainment levels, as well as those attending schools in deprived areas or in the North and Midlands. To combat this loss of learning and ease the transition to secondary school, Action Tutoring is supporting significantly more Year 7 pupils this year.

New legal duty to educate children at home
The Department for Education has made it law that schools have to provide the same education to children at home and in the classroom – though schools still face big obstacles to ensuring every pupil can access remote learning effectively, particularly around technology.

NEU campaign for schools to close
At the start of the month, the National Education Union launched a campaign for schools to close during the four-week lockdown, gathering over 150,000 signatures from teachers and support staff. It also called for a rota system to be in place for secondary pupils at the end of lockdown, to reduce the spread of the virus.

Reversing cuts to school funding
The Institute for Fiscal Studies published its annual report examining education spending and found that, with the extra £7.1 billion allocated to schools in England in 2022–23, this year’s funding increases will just about reverse the cuts experienced since 2009–10. Further Education has suffered the greatest cuts of all education stages.

Comparing policy responses
The Education Policy Institute released a comparison of different education policy responses to the pandemic, highlighting how different governments in the UK have sought to balance education and public health.