We can't afford not to fund catch-up for lost education

Torbay Weekly

Millions of children across the country missed schooling throughout this pandemic.

Many tried to keep up online. With laptops, a good WiFi and parents with free time, it was possible not to fall too far behind.

Some parents even paid for a home tutor. But not all pupils were so lucky.

For one family, the only way they could access teaching online was through one mobile phone shared between three children.

The gap between children from affluent backgrounds and those less privileged has turned into a chasm.

The Government tried to bridge the gap with extra funding but Sir Kevan Collins, the Education Recovery Commissioner, resigned as he felt that the money was nowhere near adequate.

He argued that this September up to 200,000 children could start secondary school with poor literacy skills.

And we know that this handicap can translate into poor GCSE results at 16.

The Dutch recovery plan targeted £2,500 per pupil, the US £1,600. Here the figure is closer to £50 per pupil.

Luckily, there was no pandemic in my childhood, but I do understand how missing school can create problem for years to come. And this is personal.

For some unknown reason I wanted to be a doctor from about the age of three.

When I was five I broke my arm. X-rays showed that it was not straightforward. I had a cyst in the bone.

The orthopaedic surgeons hoped it would heal but, when the cyst remained, they decided I needed surgery.

At the age of eight, I was admitted to hospital and had a bone graft from the back of my pelvis to the bone in the arm, the humerus.

Although the arm healed well, the donor site on my lower back became infected.

There were less antibiotics available and patients were kept in hospital far longer than today.

I can still remember my parents being allowed to visit for two hours once a week on Sunday afternoon.

I was in and out of hospital from the beginning of January until halfway through the summer term.

I then re-joined my class with no extra teaching.

One small example of my missed schooling was that whole class had been taught joined up writing.

I just improvised, although it is so long ago that I cannot use it as an excuse for my dreadful handwriting today.

Two years later, I failed my 11 plus. I was allowed to stay back a year when I failed it again. I then went to a school which did not teach biology or chemistry but, by working on my own, managed to scrape O-level general science.

This was enough to get me into the grammar school when I passed O-levels only to fail my A-levels.

I then spent a year at a tech college and finally passed my A-levels and, against all the odds, was accepted by a medical school.

I was incredibly lucky. I had supportive parents and I knew what I wanted to do, although at times it seemed highly unlikely.

But missing almost six months schooling at the age of eight clearly had a knock-on effect.

We now have a whole generation missing school. Any catch-up is more effective in familiar surroundings and with familiar teachers who must be involved in setting up the scheme.

Teachers have been working hard under considerable pressure throughout the pandemic and need support themselves.

This all requires adequate funding.

There is clear evidence that to have an effective economy we need a well-educated workforce.

If we allow less advantaged pupils to fall even further behind, we miss potentially talented people.

Can we afford to properly fund the catch-up for pupils who missed so much schooling?

As a country we cannot afford not to.