The Department for Education’s (DfE) lack of planning for how to deal with a pandemic, along with its failure to set standards for remote learning when lockdowns struck, resulted in children receiving “unequal [educational] experiences” over the past year, according to a new report. This report also says that the department has been “surprisingly resistant” to investigating the shortfalls in its Covid response. The Guardian has the story.
Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also said there was evidence that the Government’s £1.7 billion catch-up programme – designed to restore the learning lost during school closures – may not be connecting with many of the most disadvantaged children. The committee’s report describes the DfE as having “worthy aspirations but little specific detail”.
Meg Hillier, Chair of the PAC, said: “The pandemic has further exposed a very ugly truth about the children living in poverty and disadvantage, who have been hit particularly hard.
“Online learning was inaccessible to many children even in later lockdowns and there is no commitment to ongoing additional funding for IT. Schools will be expected to fund laptops out of their existing, and already squeezed, budgets.”
Hillier said the DfE “appears uninterested in learning lessons from earlier in the pandemic”, preferring to wait for later public inquiries.
“It shows little energy and determination to ensure that its catch-up offer is sufficient to undo the damage of the past 14 months,” Hillier said.
The report, after hearings conducted by the bipartisan committee, was deeply critical of the DfE’s failings towards children with special educational needs and disabilities, many of who struggled with remote learning, and over the future of the more than one million digital devices it had distributed to schools at a cost of £400 million.
The DfE told the committee that the laptops and tablets were now owned by schools and local authorities, which would have to maintain and update them using existing budgets.
The committee accused the DfE of being “unprepared” for the disruption despite taking part in the Government’s 2016 cross-departmental exercise to test the U.K.’s response to a pandemic, called Operation Cygnus. The MPs also found that the DfE was “surprisingly resistant” to investigating its response since March 2020.
Numerous studies have highlighted that pupils made little to no progress while learning from home – so why the reluctance from the DfE to investigate its errors in fixing this?
The Guardian report is worth reading in full.