Gavin Williamson – 2021 Statement on Education Recovery

The statement made by Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, in the House of Commons on 7 June 2021.

With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement regarding the latest phase of our education recovery programme.

Helping our children recover from the impact of the pandemic is an absolute priority. Pupils, parents and staff have all experienced disruption, and we know that continuous actions are required to help recover lost learning. That is why we have already made provision available to support children to catch up. As a result, a quarter of a million children will receive tutoring this year who would not have been able to access it beforehand; over half a million pupils will be able to attend summer schools; and schools have access to both a catch-up and a recovery premium to enable them to assess what will help their pupils catch up on lost learning and to make provision available to ensure that they do so.

The evidence we have shows that disadvantaged children and those who live in areas that have been particularly hard hit by high covid rates, such as the north-east of England and Yorkshire, are among those whose learning is most likely to have been affected. We have always been clear that we will continue to take the action that is required. That is why we continue to pledge significant packages of investment and targeted intervention to help them to make up on their lost learning. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sir Kevan Collins for his contribution to these efforts, his thoughts and his inputs over the past few months.

Last week, I announced the details of the next step in our efforts to ensure that children and young people catch up after the disruption of the pandemic and to support our ongoing education recovery plans. We have announced an additional programme of extra help and support, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, which focuses on areas that we already know are going to be most effective. They are high-quality tutoring and more effort, more work and more programmes to support great teaching. This brings our total recovery package to more than £3 billion. The lion’s share of this new money—£1 billion of it—will fund a tutoring revolution, delivering 6 million 15-hour tutoring courses for schoolchildren and the equivalent of 2 million 15-hour courses for 16 to 19-year-olds who need additional support to catch up. Year 13 pupils will also have the option to repeat their final year where this is appropriate.

The evidence shows that one course of high-quality tutoring has been proven to boost attainment by three to five months, so additional tutoring will be vital for young people in recovering the teaching hours lost in the past year. This represents a huge additional teaching resource, putting it among the best tutoring schemes in the world. It means that tutoring will no longer be the preserve of the most affluent but will instead go to those who need it most and who can get the most benefit from it. Schools will be able to provide additional tutoring support using locally employed tutors, and that will build on the successful national tutoring programme, which is on target to provide a quarter of a million children with tutoring in its first year.

I can also tell the House that it is not just data that shows us that tutoring works; we are seeing the positive impact on children at first hand. As we go around the country, speaking to children in different schools, we hear how it is helping them to learn, to catch up and to achieve the very best of themselves. We hear time and again how these activities are helping young people to make up for the time they lost through not being in school. It is also giving them the increased confidence and self-esteem that they develop through the extra tutoring and the extra attention.

I have said that we are determined to fund these catch-up activities based on the evidence of what works, and the next stage of our recovery plan will include a review of time spent in school and college and the impact that that could have on helping children and young people to catch up. Schools already have the power to set the length of the school day, but there is a certain amount of disparity in approach across the sector. I know it is not just the Government who are thinking about the length of the school day; it is an important issue with so much catching up still to do.

When that is the case, I question whether it is justifiable that some schools send their children home at 2.45 pm when others keep them in for much longer. The findings of the review will be set out later in the year to inform the spending review, and a broad range of reforms and changes to our school system will be set out.

I said that we would be concentrating this huge investment on two areas that we know work, and the second of them is to give our teachers more professional support. Teachers have done so much for children in the pandemic. Now it is time for us to do even more for those teachers. An extra £400 million will be made available to help provide half a million teacher training opportunities across the country, alongside professional development for those working in early years settings. We will make sure that all of them can access high-quality training, giving them the skills and tools to help every child they work with fulfil their potential.

Of that funding, £153 million will provide professional development for early years staff, including through new programmes that focus on key areas such as speech and language development for very young children, and £253 million will expand existing teacher training and development to give schoolteachers the opportunity to access world-leading training, tailored to whatever point they are at in their careers, from new teachers to aspiring headteachers and headteachers themselves.

We know from numerous studies that the most powerful impact on a child’s learning is made by the teacher in front of them in the classroom. By investing in our teachers, enabling them to grow professionally and develop their skills, we invest not just in them but in every pupil in every class. It is worth adding that we have not lost sight of our main aim, which is to provide world-class education for every child, whatever their background, and to set them up with the knowledge and skills that they need to fulfil their potential and look forward to a happy and fulfilling life. The recovery package will not just go a long way to boost children’s learning in the wake of the disruption caused by the pandemic, but help bring down the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers that we have been working so hard to get rid of for so long.

This is the next stage in what will be a sustained programme of support, building on the landmark £14.4 billion uplift in core schools funding that was announced in 2019 and the more than £3 billion in addition that has been announced so far for recovery. As the Prime Minister said last week,

“there is going to be more coming down the track, but don’t forget this is a huge amount that we are spending”.

For that reason, I commend the statement to the House.