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Julian Sturdy - Strong Voice for York Outer

Julian Sturdy

Member of Parliament for York Outer

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York Press Column – After 18 months of disruption, now is the time to invest in education

August 11, 2021

Regular readers of this column will know that I have been concerned about the impact of Covid restrictions across many areas, but perhaps the most alarming and long lasting impacts have been to our children’s education.

With children losing nearly a third of learning time since the pandemic began, the Government now has three principal responsibilities. Firstly, they must minimise the number of additional days that will be lost going forward. This is why I was pleased to see that the ‘bubble’ system will end from the start of the next academic year, whereby in some cases whole year groups were asked to self-isolate if one of their peers tested positive. There has also been positive news on vaccination for 16 and 17 year olds adding an extra layer of protection against transmission in schools and reducing the number of pupils ultimately having to self-isolate.

Secondly, the Government must ensure that as a result of the disruption, the current cohort of students do not miss out in comparison with their older and younger peers. Finally, the Government must ensure that resources are sufficiently targeted to ensure that those who were most disadvantaged by the shift to home learning over the last year are given the most support to catch up.

I have been calling on the Government to invest in a catch up programmes, to provide students with extra hours for face to face teaching and social interaction with their friends. We received positive local news on this front, with confirmation coming two weeks ago that Joseph Rowntree School, Manor CofE Academy and Vale of York Academy will be among the 2,800 secondary schools across England that will receive funding to host summer schools over the holiday period.

The summer schools will provide a range of extra-curricular and academic catch-up activities to boost children’s opportunities. Pupils will benefit from learning essential maths and English skills while getting involved in sports, drama, and music – as well as the option of theatre trips, workshops with authors, cooking classes, theatre trips, and sports sessions.

The summer schools will help pupils establish and build friendships before the start of the next school year, especially important for Year 7s making the transition up to secondary school.

Evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) shows that pupils who benefit from summer school programmes can make two months additional progress in comparison to pupils who don’t attend, and up to four months’ extra progress if the summer schools involve small group tuition.

With GCSE and A-level results day just around the corner, it is reassuring to see that there has not been a repeat of the shambolic adjustment of grades by algorithm that caused so much distress and confusion last year. Whilst there will be some who criticise the centre assessed grades, there has to be some recognition of the unique circumstances with which this year’s cohort have been dealing and that in the absence of exams, this is the only available means of assessing pupils that is fair on an individual level.

So whilst there are promising signs that the Government is taking the challenge seriously of tackling the educational legacy of Covid, there is much more to do and it should be seen as a priority for ongoing investment and support. It is worth mentioning at this point some positive local news that we received last month as Hempland Primary School was announced as amongst 50 schools in the country to be awarded funding to build new, modern and energy efficient school buildings. Whilst the school has yet to announce which new facilities the money will be directed towards, I look forward to seeing how the plans progress and congratulate them on securing this exciting investment in the future of children in Heworth and beyond.

As the new school year fast approaches, I hope that this will be used as an opportunity for schools to hit the ground running. To do this they need the maximum support possible from local authorities and central Government and for this to happen it is imperative that the political pressure is maintained long after the pandemic subsides.