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Government urged to provide support to pupils whose learning has stalled during coronavirus

TEACHERS and MPs have backed a think-tank’s call on the government to provide critical support for pupils whose learning has stalled during the lockdown. 

Pupils could return to school with “fresh behavioural challenges” due to family circumstances or bereavement, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) said today.

The EPI proposed a school “catch-up plan” to prevent disadvantaged pupils from falling further behind during the pandemic, and recommended avoiding student exclusions and freezing Ofsted inspections until 2021.

Disadvantaged and vulnerable children are often more likely than their classmates to be excluded or to experience unexplained exits, previous EPI research suggests.

National Education Union (NEU) joint general secretary Mary Bousted said the EPI was “right to sound a warning signal” in calling for a major strategy on inclusion after Covid-19.

With more families dropping under the poverty line, Ms Bousted called for child benefit to be doubled to close the gap between family incomes.

She said: “As schools re-integrate more students back on-site over the next months the focus needs to be on healthy transitions which support engagement with learning, and not on catching up to some government-mandated trajectory.

“We need to ‘build back better,’ not rush back to normal.”

NEU also wrote to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson today to warn the government against “rushing into decisions” on reopening schools, and to provide a five-test system to ensure there is no “prolonged threat of this pandemic for the whole of society” when they are opened.

Labour welcomed the EPI report and called on the government to give the recommendations “serious consideration” to prevent inequalities from widening.

Shadow schools minister Margaret Greenwood said: “After 10 years of Conservative austerity, child poverty is driving educational inequality in our schools.”

Education Select Committee member Apsana Begum warned that schools could not return to “business as usual.”

The MP for Poplar and Limehouse said: “Teachers are reporting a growing pressure on them and their students to get through the curriculum and this will put some young people at a distinct disadvantage.”

Ms Begum said that no child should be held back by “unfair expectations and pressures.”

A Department for Education spokesman said it would do whatever it can to make sure no child, whatever their background, falls behind as a result of coronavirus.

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