This week sees the first attendance figures released since schools in England opened their doors for a welcome return to the classroom. In other news, fears mount that the catch-up programme fails to reach disadvantaged pupils, as well as debates surrounding whether the term ‘catch-up’ should be used at all.
School attendance back at high levels in England
Since schools returned to the classroom in England last week, the first attendance figures show high levels of pupils are back in the classroom. In primary schools, 95% of pupils were in classes at the end of last week. There’s been a staggered return in secondaries to allow for Covid testing, but 89% of pupils were in last Monday. There were about 12,000 pupils absent because they were a confirmed or suspected case - but 33,000 were self-isolating because of a potential contact in school, such as someone in their bubble, and another 31,000 because of a potential contact at home. Whilst there’s still a long way to go in terms of returning to a state of normality, schools deserve huge credit for setting up what’s effectively a mixture of educational and medical facilities.
Reject the ‘reductive, deficiency-riddled terminology of catch-up’
The debate around potentially damaging terminology has continued this week as officials and commentators debate the effectiveness of terms ranging from ‘catch-up’, ‘lost generation’ and ‘generation Covid’. The topic comes as the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) set out its plans to publish a Blueprint for a Fairer Education System this summer in a bid to steer the national conversation about how we “Build Back Better”. General secretary Geoff Barton called to reject the rhetoric of catch-up at all costs, echoing the sentiments of ASCL president Richard Sheriff, who in his own address to conference on Friday (March 12) warned against labelling the current cohort of students as “the Covid generation”. Dr Alex George, who was recently appointed England’s new children’s commissioner, also weighed in on the subject, arguing that young people ‘do listen, they see the media, they see social media, and I just wonder where that leaves young people feeling like they are left? ‘Well if I don’t catch up then what am I?’ It’s certainly plausible to think that those young people affected by school disruptions over the last year could be left wondering whether their chances of succeeding in the future have been hindered.
£22m from recovery premium to ‘accelerate’ numeracy and literacy progress
This week has witnessed many news stories centred around schemes to support the most disadvantaged, a welcome observation in light of previous headlines that suggest the measures to close the learning gap have likely affected those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The government is planning to set up a National Tutoring Programme-style subsidised scheme to “accelerate” pupils’ progress in numeracy and literacy. News of the new scheme comes after the flagship NTP was criticised for not reaching enough disadvantaged pupils. A National Audit Office report revealed that, as of February, only one-third of children enrolled for tutoring under the programme had started courses. Of the 125,200 pupils allocated a tutoring place, only 41,100 had started the course. Just 44% were pupil premium eligible. It’s therefore encouraging to see that schemes to address and accelerate numeracy and literacy skills are being set up to narrow the attainment gap.
£24m committed to extend breakfast clubs programme for two more years
For years, breakfast clubs have provided healthy breakfasts to set children up raring to go ahead of a busy school day. The children that benefit from the scheme the most tend to come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, which is why it’s encouraging to see that the DfE will extend its breakfast club programme for a further two years. The government initially launched the programme in 2018 with £26 million in funding. A further £11.8 million was allocated in 2020 to extend the scheme to this year. Now the DfE has confirmed it is looking for a provider to run the scheme in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years. The breakfast clubs programme is currently run by Family Action and Magic Breakfast. At Hopscotch, we’re aware of the positive impact of breakfast clubs after having established a network of over 2,000 Breakfast Clubs across the country on behalf of Kellogg’s