‘Catch-up’ education programme needs rethink, says LGA

The Local Government Association has warned that existing learning gaps have been exacerbated by the pandemic to such an extent that they are unlikely to be solved by a quick ‘catch-up’ initiative.

The association’s new report shows that education inequalities have soared during the nation’s lockdowns, with potential gaps in learning greater for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.

The report says schools and councils have seen increasing levels of financial hardship and poverty in families through increased eligibility for free school meals, and higher levels of demand for support from early help services, including from those ‘off the radar’ and more self-referrals.

The LGA also highlights a backlog of demand for statutory children’s social care concentrated into much shorter timeframes after all pupils returned to settings and schools - with some councils reporting a fourfold increase in families requiring support.

Council leaders have also warned of significant pressures on budgets as a direct result of the pandemic, and extreme fatigue and risk of burnout among local leaders.

The report stresses that local education and children’s services will only genuinely ‘build back better’ if a long-term strategy is established which provides intensive, holistic, joined-up support for families at risk and those who are potentially vulnerable. It says this needs to be delivered in a pro-active and preventative way, supported by dedicated long-term funding for early intervention focused on the most vulnerable communities and the most disadvantaged pupils.

Councils, acting as local convenors, can bring schools, further education, health, children’s social services and voluntary and private sector businesses together to implement education recovery and are ideally placed to undertake this role locally.

Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Those working in children’s services, in early years settings and in schools, have done an incredible job during the pandemic to make sure children are safe, are still receiving an education and can access the help they need wherever possible.

“However, the impacts of Covid-19 will be with us for years to come. They will show up in economic hardship, mental health issues, attainment gaps and more, and it will be up to councils, schools and their partners to support children and their families to navigate these challenges. A quick ‘catch-up’ initiative does not do justice to what is needed to ensure the best outcomes for all children and young people.

“Instead, we need to tackle head-on the inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic. This requires a long-term strategy and funding to target the most vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils; adopting more holistic working practices which have flourished during the pandemic; and realigning communications between central and local government to help develop and establish better education and support policies that put children at the centre of our recovery.”

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