The Covid-19 catch-up premium

This article was written for SecEd magazine 

Children and young people across the country have experienced unprecedented disruption to their education as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown. And, as ever, those from the most vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds are among the hardest hit.

The Education Endowment Foundation’s recent rapid evidence review predicted that the disadvantage gap could widen by as much as 75 per cent as a result of lockdown (EEF, 2020a).

The Education Policy Institute (EPI), meanwhile, says that the disadvantage gap has stopped closing for the first time in a decade – with disadvantaged pupils in England now 18.1 months of learning behind their peers by the time they finish their GCSEs (Hutchinson et al, 2020).

The government admits the aggregate impact of lost time in education is likely to be substantial. To that end, the Department for Education (DfE) has earmarked £1 billion to support children and young people to, as they put it, “catch-up”.

  • A one-off £650 million premium for the 2020/21 academic year to help pupils make up for lost teaching time (DfE, 2020a).
  • A £350 million National Tutoring Programme (NTP) to provide additional, targeted support for those students who need the most help.

The DfE anticipates that the first tranche of NTP tutors will be operational in schools from November, but most estimates suggest that the programme is unlikely to reach full speed until the spring. So, what, in the meantime, can schools do with their slice of the premium pie?

Before I continue, I should acknowledge the recent research from the Association of School and College leaders showing that the costs of Covid safety measures this term are likely to wipe-out pretty much all of the “catch-up” funding being made available by the DfE, with some secondary schools reporting costs totalling around £40,000 this term alone.

How will funding be allocated and paid?

The catch-up premium is available for all state-funded mainstream and special schools, and alternative provision, and the government will also provide funding to local authorities for pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) who are educated in independent special schools.

Schools’ allocations of the funding will be calculated on a per-pupil basis, providing each mainstream school with a total of £80 for each pupil in years Reception through to 11. Special, alternative provision and hospital schools will be provided with £240 for each place for the 2020/21 academic year. The DfE has applied additional weighting to specialist settings.

By way of illustration, a typical primary school of 200 pupils will receive £16,000 while a typical secondary school of 1,000 pupils will receive £80,000. The funding will be paid in three tranches:

  • An initial part-payment in autumn 2020, based on the latest available data on pupils in mainstream schools and high needs place numbers in special, AP, hospital schools and special schools not maintained by a local authority.
  • A second grant payment in early 2021, based on updated pupil and place data. The second grant payment will also take account of the initial part payment made in autumn 2020 so that schools will receive a total of £46.67 per pupil or £140 per place across the first two payment rounds.
  • A third grant of £33.33 per pupil or £100 per place will be paid during the summer term 2021.

The DfE says that although funding has been calculated on a per-pupil or per-place basis, schools should use the sum available to them as a single total from which to prioritise support for pupils according to their need.

As it is likely that some of the pupils in greatest need of “catch-up” support will already be in receipt of the Pupil Premium or be identified as having additional needs, it is perfectly acceptable that the monies – and the strategies – be combined. Not only will this ensure that support is properly funded, but it will help schools to evidence the impact of spend and reduce the bureaucratic burden of reporting.

Pupil Premium and small group tuition

Where additional interventions are deemed important to help targeted pupils such as those in receipt of Pupil Premium to catch-up with their peers, then investing in one-to-one and small group tuition may be a good starting point.

The EEF’s Covid-19 support guide for schools (2020b) says that, for tuition to be most effective, we must create a three-way relationship between tutor, teacher and pupils, and we must ensure that tuition is linked to the curriculum and focused on the areas where pupils would most benefit from additional practice or feedback.

As a rule of thumb, the smaller the group the better. However, both small group and one-to-one tuition can be effective catch-up approaches.

Tuition delivered by qualified teachers, says the EEF, is likely to have the highest impact. However, tuition delivered by tutors, teaching assistants, or trained volunteers can also be effective. Where tuition is delivered by teaching assistants or volunteers, providing training linked to specific content and approaches is important.

We already know from the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit that intervention programmes such as tuition are likely to have the greatest impact when they meet a specific need, such as oral language skills or aspects of reading, include regular sessions maintained over a sustained period and are carefully timetabled to enable consistent delivery.

But not all pupils in need of support will be Pupil Premium, so how can schools prioritise the remaining spend?

Using the catch-up premium for whole-school initiatives

As I argued in my recent SecEd article on the myths of learning loss (Bromley, 2020), attempts to formally assess pupils early in this academic year in order to identity those in greatest need might be misguided.

Although the DfE has signalled its support for a form of benchmarking, rather than formal assessment, in order to help pupils get back on track, I think we would be best putting quality teaching first: through good teaching, formative assessments can identify any academic concerns and therefore pinpoint who is in greatest need of the premium support.

In my recent article I also quote Professor Dylan Wiliam, who has said that the use of standardised tests as a means of identifying need is unlikely to be of much help.

So, if we’re not running formal assessments of need, how should we prioritise the use of the £650m premium? Well, much of the money could be spent on initiatives that support the progress of all pupils. After all, the government says schools should use the funding in line with the guidance on curriculum expectations for the 2020/21 academic year. As a starting point, then, I would suggest schools consider how they are observing the key principles that underpin that advice, namely that:

  • Education is not optional: all pupils receive a high-quality education that promotes their development and prepares them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.
  • The curriculum remains broad and ambitious: all pupils continue to be taught a wide range of subjects, maintaining their choices for further study and employment.

To honour these principles, I would contend that an effective use of some of this funding is to:

  • Bolster home-school communications.
  • Ramp-up pastoral support for vulnerable pupils and their families, including on attendance.
  • Make changes to the timetable and curriculum offer including rewriting schemes of work.
  • Ensure that remote education continues to be provided in some form and that it is of a high quality and aligns as closely as possible with in-school provision.

On the latter point regarding remote learning, schools need to continue to build their online learning capabilities – not least because the pandemic is far from over and there are already plenty of pupils returning home to self-isolate – and this requires:

  • The provision of technological equipment such as laptops and internet.
  • The development of additional resources such as instructional videos and online retrieval practice quizzes.
  • Teacher CPD including on how to make a success of remote learning (see EEF, 2020c; Lucas et al, 2020; SecEd 2020a, 2020b).
  • Additional staffing costs to cover online teaching, mentoring and assessment duties.
  • Extending the school day and providing holiday clubs or additional resources for parents to use at home.

How will schools be held accountable?

School leaders must be able to account for how this money is being used. Governors and trustees should scrutinise schools’ approaches to “catch-up”, including their plans for and use of this premium. This should include consideration of whether schools are spending this funding in line with their priorities and ensuring appropriate transparency for parents.

Although routine inspections are not set to resume until January 2021, Ofsted is in the process of conducting a programme of non-graded visits. During these visits, inspectors will discuss how the school is bringing pupils back into full-time education – and this may include plans schools have to spend this funding.

Ofsted (2020) says these visits are collaborative discussions, considering curriculum and remote education expectations, and do not result in a judgement. Instead, a brief letter will be published following the visit.

The insights that inspectors gather from across schools will also be shared nationally. It will be worth keeping an eye out for these reports. Ofsted visits will:

  • Identify the barriers schools have faced and are still facing in managing the return to full education for pupils.
  • Investigate how leaders are ensuring pupils resume learning the school’s existing curriculum, including the blend of classroom teaching and, where necessary, remote education.
  • Investigate how pupils are settling back into expected routines and behaviours.
  • Investigate how any identified and specific health and wellbeing issues for particular pupils are being addressed and what may be needed at local and/or national level to support this.
  • Look at safeguarding issues.

Ofsted visits will not use the Education Inspection Framework or result in any grade or progress judgement. Neither should inspectors judge schools on their response to Covid-19 during the spring and summer terms.



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