Yesterday, 2nd June 2021, the Education Secretary for the UK announced a package of £1.4 billion of extra funding for schools and colleges offering KS1-4 and post-16 education. However, it is clear that from the announcement, the consideration and inclusion of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children has not been factored into this funding, indeed nor have the interests of the wider school-age population, who have together endured the biggest obstacle to education since World War II.
Of this funding the Government stated that £1 billion would be used to support up to 6 million school children by offering 15-hour tutoring sessions to those children who are identified as disadvantaged. The additional £400,000 will be used to provide teacher training to 500,000 teachers across the country and offer some Year 13 students an opportunity to re-sit their KS3 examinations.
- Entitlement – just up to 6 million disadvantaged students – even if all were disadvantaged, there still wouldn’t be enough to go around.
The specific issues
The initial problem with this funding is that not all children are provided with catch-up funding support. There are currently over 8.89 million primary and secondary school pupils in the UK, meaning that at least 2.89 million children under the age of sixteen cannot receive additional tutoring from this funding, despite the fact that the average pupil has missed over half a year of school education amounting to about 5% of their overall time in school. Additionally, the 15-hour tutoring, which is only the equivalent of about 3 days, is only available to pupils who are registered with their school as disadvantaged. This criterion ignores groups of children who are statistically more likely to have low attainment and be disproportionately affected by Covid-19 due to higher rates of poverty and lower ability of parents to support with their education, such as Roma and Irish Traveller children, as well as other ethnic groups such as Black Caribbean boys.
In the year 2020/21 the UK Government borrowed an estimated £372 billion to be spent in addition to current Government funds raised through our taxation, leaving the UK debt pile at £2.17 trillion, the largest since 1962. Government spending has been very high in response to Covid-19, for example in just over the last year the UK Government has spent over £61.3 billion on the Job Retention Scheme as of April 2021, as well as over £849 million in one month alone with the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme. High Government spending during an international health crisis is not the issue being considered here, however disproportionate spending is. The Government is boasting a total of £3 billion extra spending on schools altogether, which is equivalent to less than 4.9% of the funding spent on the Job Retention Scheme and is only about three and a half times than the Government spent on half-price meals for the public in just one month.
It has been reported that to enable all pupils to catch-up on missed learning effectively the cost would be approximately £15 billion. The Government has offered only one fifth of this. The result of this will be the lower attainment and ability of our young people as they grow and enter the workplace and will specifically impact those groups of children who are already known to be at considerable disadvantage to other children, such as Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller children.
Actions that need to be taken
The Government must urgently review the Covid-19 catch-up plans and increase the overall funding to support education proportionately to the costs it has invested in other areas of the national Covid-19 recovery. It is clear that underfunding the response to already disrupted education will have devastating impacts on all of our young people and will disproportionately disadvantage GRT pupils in circumstances where their existing options, attainment and inclusion are already the lowest of any other demographic in education. Specific funding towards GRT initiatives that supports groups of children who are more likely to fall behind than others, is essential and must happen now before crucial time is lost and the development of our young people is damaged permanently. The result of Government inaction will devastate our communities and our future, causing attainment gaps between travelling communities and the general population to continue inflating unnecessarily, furthering the already deep divide between our communities.