Unions were today pushing back at plans to extend the school year in England as Boris Johnson vowed to go ‘flat out’ to help children catch up.
The PM said getting pupils’ learning on track was the government’s ‘single biggest priority’ amid fears the most vulnerable have fallen even further behind during the pandemic.
The comments came after it emerged ministers are looking at continuing the summer term for another two weeks, with the holiday time redistributed to existing breaks in the autumn and winter.
Study during the warmer months could be easier as windows and doors can be kept open in school buildings to improve ventilation and reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading.
A new study has found that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds found remote learning significantly more difficult than other students last year.
However, unions have signalled they will oppose the changes, insisting parents are ‘craving getting back to normal’.
On a visit to a vaccination centre in Derbyshire this afternoon, Mr Johnson said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will be announcing a full catch-up blueprint soon.
‘We have got to work flat out now as a country as a society to remedy the loss of learning that we have had,’ he said.
The extension is being considered as No10 insisted that the worrying news about the AstraZeneca being less effective against the South African variant had not changed plans to get children back in classrooms from March 8.
Many schools across England are due to break up for the summer holidays on Friday July 23.
A two-week extension would therefore see pupils continuing to attend class during the first week of August.
The government is looking at continuing the summer term for another two weeks, with the holiday time redistributed to existing breaks in the autumn and winter (file picture)
On a visit to a vaccination centre in Derbyshire this afternoon, Mr Johnson said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will be announcing a full catch-up blueprint soon
Data from the Department for Health shows that Britain recorded 15,845 cases today, down by 25 per cent from 21,088 cases last Sunday. The number of daily Covid-related deaths fell 36 per cent week-on-week, from 587 last Sunday down to 373 today, the figures show
Unions accused of ‘highjacking’ pandemic to push for pay rises
Britain’s biggest teaching union has been accused of ‘hijacking’ the coronavirus crisis to push for pay rises and long-term perks while the educations of millions of children are shipwrecked.
The National Education Union (NEU) is including pay increases in ‘key demands’ and bosses have called for any reduction in class sizes to be ‘long-term’ – not just for social distancing during the pandemic.
Union leaders congratulated their members for getting schools closed down, claiming it was their threats to not turn up to class which led to Prime Minister Boris Johnson shutting schools in England in January.
The NEU came under fire from furious Tory backbenchers after a ‘gloating’ email from the union to its 500,000 members was leaked which told them ‘You did it!’ as the third national lockdown was announced.
The union, which has described the pandemic as a ‘turning point’ in relations between teachers and Downing Street, has thwarted every proposal by the government to get children back into classrooms.
Now it has set out ‘key demands for all workplaces’ in a five-point ‘Covid bulletin’ to reps which calls for a ‘permanent’ and ‘automatic’ pay rise, an end to work assessments during the coronavirus crisis, risk assessments, and extra time to plan, prepare and assess students’ work.
Asked on a round of interviews this morning whether ministers are considering making the summer term longer, health minister Edward Argar told BBC Breakfast: ‘It’s quite right that Gavin (Williamson, the Education Secretary) is looking at a whole range of things to see how we can make sure the impact on them is minimised to the extent that’s possible.
‘But it would be premature for me to comment on what may or may not be what he does announce.’
Boris Johnson has said schools across England will not reopen until March 8 at the earliest.
The Prime Minister has said he will publish a lockdown exit strategy later this month amid mounting pressure from Tory MPs to bring forward a return to classrooms.
Changing the school year is one of a number of options reportedly being looked at by Number 10 as the Government develops its plans to help students catch up on lost time.
Government sources made clear that no decisions have been taken at this stage.
But there are reports the two weeks of lost summer holidays could be added to the autumn half-term and the Christmas holidays.
Extending those holidays would also provide a longer so-called ‘fire break’ in the colder months, providing more time for infections to fall.
As the policy work continues, resarch by non-profit body ImpactEd again highlighted the damage to the prospects of children.
Its study monitored 62,000 pupils in England through eight months of 2020 to assess the effect of online schooling during the pandemic.
Their report, Lockdown Lessons, found that among pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds – those at schools eligible for the Government’s Pupil Premium grant – only 45 per cent said they understood their schoolwork in lockdown, compared with 57% among other students.
The survey assessed pupils using a range of measures including their home learning environment, their metacognitive strategies and their learning habits, in order to determine a ‘Covid-19 Learning Index’.
It found pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds gave their home environment a 6% lower score than other students and reported lower scores on metacognition, leading to a sharply lower Covid-19 Learning Index score of 3.21 compared with 3.35 from non-disadvantaged pupils.
‘Across all of these learning measures, and those associated with wellbeing, students eligible for Pupil Premium reported worse than average outcomes,’ the report said, adding disadvantaged students had also scored 5% lower on questions about their resilience.
The report’s authors recommended that ‘post-lockdown support should be carefully evaluated to ensure that pupils who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are benefiting’.
‘If interventions are not having the desired effect, they should be stopped,’ the report said.
The survey also found pupil wellbeing overall across the first period of lockdown was perhaps not as adversely affected as feared.
Using a 35-point scale, the average score for wellbeing was 23.8 in May, 24.1 in June, and 24.0 in July, compared with a pre-lockdown score of 23.6.
Pupils in years 10 and 11 reported the greatest challenges with motivation, the survey said, a condition which did not improve after lockdown.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson is looking at ways of helping children catch up
Boris Johnson has said schools across England will not reopen until March 8 at the earliest
A quarter of KS4 pupils complained they could not attain help from their families if they had questions about their schoolwork.
Furthermore, 40 per cent of these students said they did not have a routine which helped them learn, according to the study, which also found pupils who exercised regularly were more likely – 58 per cent to 33 per cent – to report they had developed a positive learning routine.
Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee, told Sunday Times that the change to the school year is under consideration by ministers.
He said: ‘We have to reform the school year. There has to be change; things cannot carry on the way they did pre-Covid. From my discussions with No10, everything is up for debate.’
The Welsh government has already suggested it could move to extend the summer term.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that some private schools are preparing similar plans.
Some private schools are looking at bringing forward the Easter holidays to make more time for the summer term.
Geoff Barton, from the ASCL head teachers’ union, said changes to the school year should not happen now.
He said: ‘It’s nice to think about doing things differently, and this is the moment to rethink them. But anyone trying to force that through this summer will find people are just craving getting back to normal.’
It emerged last week that ministers are also considering plans to extend the school day.
The idea is being pushed by some Tory MPs and the Government is said to be receptive to it.
However, teaching unions have urged ministers to reject the proposals, claiming there are ‘better methods’ to help pupils catch up on lost time in the classroom.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: ‘Research evidence shows that there are better methods to help pupils than lengthening the school day.
‘The Government must filter out loud calls for superficially attractive schemes and listen to the experts instead.’
Should teaching unions try to stand in the way of the move if the Government adopts the proposals, volunteers could cover the extended lessons, according to The Times.
Downing Street said last Friday that the Government is working with teachers and parents on catch-up plans, adding: ‘The PM acknowledges that extended schools closures have had a huge impact on pupils’ learning which will clearly take time to make up.’
Mr Johnson last week refused to bow to demands to bring forward the reopening of schools.
Asked about the idea during a round of interviews this morning, health minister Edward Argar said it was ‘right’ that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is looking at a ‘whole range of things’