MPs have warned that the coronavirus school closures will widen the education gap between the north and south.
In an open letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, more than 50 MPs and peers have voiced their concerns over the poorest pupils falling behind, saying urgent action needs to be taken.
Among secondary schools teaching the most disadvantaged communities, two thirds of them reside in the North of England.
”We need to deal with the consequences of this crisis for the most vulnerable in our society, and that must include children from low-income households.MPs
Parliamentarians, including conservatives in northern constituencies, say that one-on-one tuition for these pupils should be provided when they go back to school
“The most disadvantaged children fall behind their peers over a long summer holiday, and the shutdown widen the north’s disadvantage gap and with it the north-south divide,” the letter reads.
“We need to deal with the consequences of this crisis for the most vulnerable in our society, and that must include children from low-income households.”
MPs suggest that by allocating a ‘catch-up premium’ of £300 million (£700 for every pupil on free school meals), this would allow for 30 minutes of tuition three times a week for 12 weeks.
When will schools reopen?
It is unclear as of yet when schools in the UK will officially reopen, but discussions have mentioned the beginning June as the earliest possible date.
Mr. Williamson says there are currently no plans in place for schools to stay open during the summer holidays to help students catch up on lessons they may have missed. He also said that enforcing social distancing in schools would be challenging – a viewpoint shared by many frontline teachers in schools across the country.
However, many sources have reported the difficulties of remote learning, surrounding access to computers and reliable internet connections – particularly for disadvantaged students.
In some schools, headteachers say up to 40% of their students live in a home with no computer, while many more children have to share devices with parents and siblings.
The Government is currently rolling out various schemes to improve digital accessibility for children in the UK, including providing free laptops and tablets to some children, and facilitating peer-to-peer support through online learning platforms. However, there is currently no timescale for the scheme.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We will do everything possible to make sure no child, whatever their background, falls behind as a result of coronavirus.
“The government has already committed over £100m to support remote education, including providing devices and internet access to those children who need it most.
“Schools are also continuing to receive additional funding in the form of the pupil premium – worth around £2.4 bn annually – to help them support their disadvantaged pupils.
“The department is considering, with a range of partner organisations, how best to support all pupils to make up for time out of school.”