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For far too long schools in England have been expected to get along on a wing and a prayer. Now the need to help students recover from learning lost during the Covid pandemic has brought critical issues of educational funding into sharp focus.
Over the past 18 months the gap between the haves and the have-nots among our pupils has grown at a faster rate than previously seen. The paltry resources available to support vulnerable children – especially those with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) – have been cruelly exposed.
All children have lost out on vital learning and wider educational opportunities. At the same time, children’s anxieties and mental health challenges have resulted in an overwhelming demand for support from schools and other agencies.
When the Department for Education brought in Sir Kevan Collins as its catch-up tsar, teachers began to hope it would act on advice from a highly regarded professional. But the latest announcements have burst that small bubble of optimism, making Collins’ position untenable. An additional £1.4bn – a sum that works out at little more than £50 a child over three years – for extra tuition and teacher training falls spectacularly short of what is required.
By all accounts, the Treasury was prepared to back a much greater long-term financial package but a lack of credible planning and detail has meant that a golden opportunity has been missed for now.
Perhaps there is still a chance for the DfE to deliver something better in the near future, if it can start listening and working collaboratively with those of us who work in schools and colleges across the country every day.
Successive governments have tinkered around the edges of the school system, hoping that changes to governance arrangements and accountability measures will sort out complex problems. But during the pandemic schools proved that they could be flexible, creative and meet a host of learning and wider social needs – and now we need to be supported to do that over a sustained period of time.
Superficial soundbites and short-term remedies must be urgently dispensed with and replaced by a fully resourced and ambitious five-year recovery plan to give children and their families the start in life that they richly deserve and need right now.
Foremost, there needs to be clarity about what schools are meant to deliver, above and beyond a few extra hours of tutoring that the government thinks will be enough.
Unless we are properly resourced, we cannot do everything. We need to prioritise support for disadvantaged children and those with Send, as well as ensuring that every child gains meaningful and flexible skills for the future.
Crucially, health and wider children’s services and social care must be explicitly integrated within schools and linked with educational provision. Extending the school day is a perfectly sensible way forward but schools need the staffing and specialist resources to deliver those things effectively.
Our schools should be enabled to act as community hubs that support families and children from all backgrounds, to reach high levels of academic performance and become confident, secure and well-rounded individuals.
Instead too many schools have become mired in a pernicious system of accountability. Exams and accountability measures have their place but scarce resources are often spent fending off Ofsted and completing lengthy administrative exercises that serve little purpose.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: English schools need more than superficial soundbites and short-term remedies | Jules White