Four Thoughts on the Education Select Committee’s Analysis of Catch-up
by Baz Ramaiah
11th March 2022
Yesterday the Education Select Committee published its report on the government’s educational catch-up programme. Whilst acknowledging that there has been £5bn of investment, the report is clear that current plans do not go far enough.
The report comes hot on the heels of press coverage about unprecedented levels of pupil absence and a debate in parliament on Wednesday about the missed targets of the government’s flagship tutoring programme (NTP).
The report makes four recommendations:
1) Change the way catch-up funding gets to schools
The report argues that the current system is too complex and bureaucratic. The DfE should make more use of existing funding mechanisms targeting resources at lower-income pupils (such as pupil premium) and that school leaders should be trusted to use funding to the best advantage of lower-income pupils. We broadly agree but would add that directing catch-up funding and interventions towards pupils with SEND is equally important.
2) Make data on NTP uptake more transparent and accessible. If Randstad, the current delivery partner, fail to meet key targets, then their contract should be terminated.
While there have been widely reported concerns about the NTP’s uptake, impact and cost, there is an argument to be made that re-tendering may not resolve these issues. Indeed, a procurement cycle and new delivery partner may actually introduce further barriers to access for schools at a time when they need stability and surety from the NTP and the DfE.
We suggest instead that the DfE and Randstad should instead listen to recommendations on piecemeal adaptations the NTP can make to meet its uptake targets. This is vital for preserving schools’ belief in the effectiveness of tutoring as an intervention. Beyond these adaptations, it is critical that the government develop an ambitious and well-coordinated vision for how tutoring can be used to close the achievement gap. Read more on our new research into this topic here.
3) Support pupils wellbeing through greater access to enrichment.
The report recognises the concern that delivering more enrichment through longer school hours may have negative impacts on teacher workload. The report nonetheless suggests piloting optional after-school activities in areas of disadvantage, as well as seeking better collaboration with the voluntary and private sectors to deliver enrichment activities. Our 2021 report on enrichment and recovery suggested three further actions:
- A ringfenced “enrichment” top-up for the Pupil Premium, with grant conditions that could steer schools towards spending on the youth sector
- Facilitating greater collaboration between schools and other providers of non-formal learning, for example, through a DfE funded digital platform to allow local NFL providers and schools to find each other, similar to existing platforms such as the Teacher Vacancy Service
- Strengthening the regulatory framework for schools around providing enrichment activities, for example, through expanding the “personal development” element of the Ofsted framework or creating enrichment benchmarks.
4) Greater support for mental health.
Finally, the report suggests fast-tracking the government’s commitment to ensuring there is a mental health lead in every school. Schools should be incentivised to track and support mental health, for example through inspections. The report is at its most radical when it suggests a levy on the profits of social media companies, to pay for online harms training for schools.
Much of these ideas chime with our previous research on mental health in school, but we find it odd that the report does not call for greater government investment in CAMHS. This may require a longer-term focus but is nonetheless a crucial mechanism by which young people can access specialist support.
The Education Select Committee naturally focuses on recommendations for schools and the DfE. But this should not mislead us into concluding that school failures are the primary cause of the various highlighted crises faced by young people. We need to look deeper – to poverty and social isolation. These are deep, stubborn problems that lead to the issues of academic underachievement and mental health challenges highlighted by the Committee. Resolving these issues is a cross-governmental task, involving many departments – from arms-length bodies such as the Low Pay Commission reconsidering the minimum wage to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government laying out a new, inclusive plan for social housing. This synoptic vision is central to how CfEY understands the best way to help young people at the margins.