More funding is needed to place education at the heart of national recovery

Children have had a tough year and education needs to be at the heart of national recovery. Everyone agrees with this, from The Times Education Commission, to the teaching unions, to the Treasury.

But it’s easy to sign up to that as a general principle. For government, they need a plan which is deliverable fast, would make a real difference, which responds to what parents want as well as teachers, and – with a nod to the Chancellor’s concerns – can be paid for.

Lost amid the hullabaloo over the resignation of Sir Kevan Collins was the fact that the key elements of his thoughtful plan were announced by government. Tutoring is one of those rare education interventions that we know works, and is wildly popular. In our recent paper for the CPS, 65% of parents rated it as a priority for catch up.

And the less heralded but equally important announcements this week were on teacher development. No education system can exceed the quality of its teachers – and government has announced a 5-fold increase in professional training for serving teachers, around carefully researched and designed programmes, to improve their effectiveness.

But we also found in our CPS report that more needs to be done. Parents are not the passive or ignorant bystanders in education that they’re sometimes thought to be. They think that their children have fallen behind. Catch-up is not a dirty phrase, and those in the education sector who baulk at it are the ones who are out of touch. Parents are also keener on a longer school day than is often supposed. We know that many high performing schools already manage to do this, as do most independent schools. This should remain an option under real consideration.

And although parents want their children to be happy and to play, the rhetoric from some in education that we should focus on that over academic support isn’t supported. By some distance, parents are most worried about their children falling behind at maths. Recruiting more maths teachers, and improving maths instruction – perhaps looking for an equivalent to the focus placed on literacy through teaching of phonics – should be a priority for government.

All of that takes money. Gavin Williamson is right that in pre-Covid times, getting more than a billion pounds for a package out of the Treasury would be cause for celebratory laps round Whitehall. But this isn’t normal times. More and more evidence is emerging that learning gaps are severe. Just this week, a study from Renaissance Learning found that primary children are up to four and a half months behind in maths where they would have been – with the greatest loss among the poorest children. This inequity is equivalent to undoing a third of the entire progress made in the last decade on closing the gap between poorer and richer children in primary schools. And it has a real world economic cost too – up to £100bn in lost tax revenue according to the IFS.

Government must be taken at their word when they say that this is a priority and more funding is to come.

Jonathan Simons is the Head of the Education Practice at Public First, and a co-author of the Centre of Policy Studies report “Lost Learning: How children can catch up after Covid”