The Scottish Conservatives have called for the SNP to use extra UK Government funding to deliver a schools catch-up plan and pivotal business support.
Today the UK Government announced an extra £1.1 billion of funding to the Scottish Government, taking the total UK cash delivered to fight Covid-19 to £9.7 billion.
Douglas Ross has said the funding should go towards delivering the Scottish Conservatives schools catch-up plan announced on Friday, especially a national tutoring service to prevent the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils growing even wider.
The Scottish Conservatives are also calling for the funding to go towards 100% rates relief for businesses in the leisure, retail, hospitality and aviation industries.
The rates relief extension was one of the key budget demands by the Scottish Conservatives but the SNP only extended the relief for three months instead of the full year.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “It’s vital that that the SNP use this extra UK Government funding in the next stage of the Scottish Budget to target support at protecting Scottish jobs and restoring excellence in our schools.
“Pupils have missed time at school and despite teachers’ valiant efforts to keep education on track, the attainment gap will widen unless the SNP act now and fund our proposals for more teachers and a national tutoring service. They need to treat this as a national emergency and set out a schools catch-up plan this week.
“Too often, the SNP treat businesses as an afterthought and make excuses for not delivering enough support.
“This latest funding increase confirms again that the SNP’s manufactured grievances over funding have no substance. The UK Government has delivered around £10 billion just to fight Covid-19.
“By forcing through their indyref2 bill in the next six weeks, the SNP are putting that funding at risk. Their push for another referendum as early as this year will derail Scotland’s recovery.”
An extension of 100 per cent reliefs to leisure, retail, hospitality and aviation for the remainder of 2021-22 would cost £555 million, based on the funding assigned for the first three months (Scottish Government, Draft Budget 2021-22, 28 January 2021, p15, link).
The Scottish Conservative schools catch-up plan is as follows:
- Children and young people have experienced two periods of extended school closures, resulting in at least 16 school weeks being missed. Scottish schools will not reopen fully until at least March 2021 and the provision of remote education has been varied. Some children have missed additional weeks due to periods of self-isolation.
- This will have a significant impact on all pupils and widen the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils:
o A Scottish Government audit of the first school closure period found that it had a negative impact on the progress of most children and young people, and the impact varied according to the age, stage, English language proficiency and socio-economic status of children and young people (Scottish Government, Coronavirus (COVID-19): impact of school building closures - equity audit, 13 January 2021, link).
o The audit found that higher numbers of children and young people from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds showed regression in core literacy and numeracy skills, many children and young people affected by socio-economic disadvantage were struggling to absorb new information and regain prior levels of independence and engagement, and the number of children and young people from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds on track to achieve appropriate levels had fallen significantly. Schools which had carried our literacy and numeracy assessments found that the period of remote learning had a negative impact on attainment levels, particularly for almost all learners affected by socio-economic disadvantage. In summary, almost all headteachers and teachers stated that children and young people who experience socio-economic disadvantage have made less progress to date than they were predicted to make before the start of the period of remote learning (Scottish Government, Coronavirus (COVID-19): impact of school building closures - equity audit, 13 January 2021, link).
o Analysis carried out by the Commission on School Reform concluded that school closures have caused at least five years of extra educational inequality on children’s progress, based on research by the Education Endowment Foundation and further international evidence (Reform Scotland, Commission on School Reform Challenge Paper, February 2021, link).
- The scale of the learning loss means that a multi-year solution is required. The London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance found that ‘well over two additional hours per week might be needed over a year to compensate for each week lost to COVID-19’. Given the amount of weeks which have been lost, this sort of action will need to be spread across multiple years (LSE Centre for Economic Performance, COVID-19 school shutdowns: What will they do to our children’s education?, May 2020, link).
Scottish Conservative solution
- The first action required to address lost learning is to identify the scale of the problem. The Scottish Government’s analysis so far only looked at 1 per cent of Scottish schools and the majority of their audit was spent summarising data gathered elsewhere. It identified that only ‘a few schools’ in their sample had assessed literacy and numeracy when children returned. The absence of formal exams in 2020 and 2021 also mean there is a lack of raw data about pupils’ attainment (Scottish Government, Coronavirus (COVID-19): impact of school building closures - equity audit, 13 January 2021, link).
Policy: Carry out an extensive national research during the summer term into the impact of closures and provide evidence-based guidance to schools on how to assess the progress of individuals upon their return.
- When children return, it will be more important than ever that they receive high quality teaching in the classroom.Research by the Education Endowment Foundation shows that the most effective interventions include providing feedback, supporting pupils to plan, monitor and evaluate their own progress, and encouraging collaborative learning. These strategies are all central to good teaching at any time but are essential now (EEF, Teaching and Learning Toolkit, accessed 10 February 2021, link).
Policy: Invest £550 million in recruiting 3,000 new teachers over the course of the next Parliament so there are enough high-quality teachers to support pupils to catch up.
- More intensive support is required for disadvantaged children who will have missed out most.The Scottish Government’s equity audit found that disadvantaged children and young people had been worst affected by the first period of school closures and this will only have been compounded by the second lockdown (Scottish Government, Coronavirus (COVID-19): impact of school building closures - equity audit, 13 January 2021, link).
Policy: A national tutoring programme should be set up, open to supply teachers, student teachers and other suitably qualified tutors, to provide one-to-one and small group tutoring to pupils who need it most. Schools will be able to access ring-fenced funding and choose tutors from approved lists.
- Children and young people at key transition points will need the most support.The Scottish Government’s equity audit identified that children in the early years of primary or those starting secondary were most likely to see a negative impact on their progress. Young people leaving secondary school this year will also required additional support in the next stage of their education (Scottish Government, Coronavirus (COVID-19): impact of school building closures - equity audit, 13 January 2021, link).
Policy: Invest in targeted early language interventions within nurseries to ensure all children are ready to start school in August, and additional support for those starting primary or secondary school this August.