Welcome but limited government response The government’s response to this education crisis facing young people has been tardy and limited. A rapid assessment of worldwide evidence on the impact of school closures, conducted by the Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF), a charity specialising in educational research, indicates that the Covid-19 shutdown is likely to reverse a decade’s worth of gains in education in the UK. Despite a scheme launched in April to provide pupils in need with laptops, many have not yet arrived. Vouchers for free internet are being offered to a paltry 10,000 pupils. And the vaunted catch-up fund (of £1bn, with £350m to be spent on tutoring) will not, on its own, be enough to solve the problem. But the catch-up plan’s focus on 1:1 or small

group support is wise and welcome. Tutoring is certainly the most evidence-based remedy for struggling children; the EEF has found that 6 to 12 weeks of catch-up tuition can add up to six months’ extra progress – and effects are particularly positive for students from poorer families. Yet the £350m fund only equates to about £80 a child. This is likely to be insufficient to pay for the amount of extra tuition many children will need. And younger children, whose early reading journey will have been fundamentally disrupted, will likely not be a priority for these resources.

Collective effort could make a difference The challenge is clear—and so are the lineaments of the solution. When children return to school this autumn there will need to be multiple, creative strands in the effort to make up for the almost 400 hours of education they will have lost, and for younger children, the reading confidence that will have melted away. It is time for a radical re-think of how society can prevent the youngest members of the next generation falling irretrievably behind. There are optimistic signs that wider society understands the scale of the challenge, and that

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people want to play their part to help. The huge increase in voluntarism throughout this pandemic is testament to this, notably the NHS volunteer scheme which was almost instantly over-subscribed. We need to channel this energy, compassion

and kindness into collective participation in the education catch-up effort. Both the public and the private sectors have been primed to act by the unprecedented media focus on the educational inequalities exposed by Covid. We need to capitalise on this to build partnerships with businesses and fund the recruitment of thousands of willing, literate employees across the country who want to help ensure the next generation can read. Not only could this public-private approach provide a wide pool of volunteers, but it will also enable businesses to meet their corporate social responsibility goals. Of course, models need to be developed to

enable these volunteers to give their time easily and so children can be kept safe. And, given the

restrictions, such a model can’t involve adults having to travel. That’s why school-based programmes that operate virtually, using technology, are a viable, scaleable answer. Volunteers can be anywhere - children are in the supervised setting of school. Volunteers can give focused 1:1 time – pupils interact with an encouraging adult and get real time feedback. For younger children, where video might not be appropriate, a voice connection alongside a shared, interactive online reading platform, such as the TutorMate programme, has been proven to improve the reading of reluctant readers and increase their confidence as learners. The business community has a critical role here:

it has a chance to demonstrate its commitment to social mobility and play its part in preventing children being left irretrievably behind. This is society’s moment to salvage and transform the life chances of millions.


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