‘Catch-up’ education programme needs rethink

Education inequalities and 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 LGA has warned.

A new report, commissioned by the LGA, shows that potential gaps in learning have mushroomed during COVID-19 lockdowns, and are greater for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and other vulnerabilities.

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.

Other issues highlighted include a backlog of demand for statutory children’s social care, with some councils reporting a fourfold increase in families requiring support; children entering the care system with more complex needs, often related to county lines drug trafficking, substance abuse and increased mental health needs; extreme fatigue and risk of burnout among local leaders; and significant budget pressures, with some schools having to set deficit budgets.

Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “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 that 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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