By Joseph Wilkinson

In June 2020, the government announced a billion pound “Covid ‘catch-up’ package” which was created in order to offset the loss in teaching time that happened during the first lockdown. £650 million was to be shared between state primary and secondary schools whilst £350 million was to be given to the National Tutoring Programme.

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This programme was designed to help the most disadvantaged students catch up as studies show they have been the most affected by lockdowns.  In early June of this year the government announced a £1.4 billion increase to this package to combat further lost time due to multiple lockdowns. This new level of investment is set to be used in two ways. £1 billion will be for tutoring and this should be around 100 million hours of tutoring. The other £400 million will be spent on providing training for school teachers to help them compensate for the lost learning during COVID-19. 

These announcements have been met with an abundance of criticism by the media as well as those within the education system. According to the Guardian this £1.4 billion figure was described as “pitiful” by a school leaders’ union and the Education Policy Institute, an independent think tank, suggested it fell very short of the £13.5 billion package it recommended. This even led to the Education Recovery Commissioner, who was appointed in order to advise the government on how to address the disruption in teaching caused by lockdowns, Sir Kevan Collins resigning. This is because he felt as though the government’s recovery package was nowhere near the required amount which he felt was around £15 billion. 

It is obvious from the criticism given to the new policy by experts within the field of education that it is not enough. However, it’s not just the lack of funds that is the problem for these new policies. It’s the entire ethos behind the policies themselves. They are based on the traditional and quite frankly outdated education ethos that emphasises book learning and exams that are largely based on whether you have a good memory or not. 

I’m only 21 and so did not go to school all that long ago. After doing university I am utterly baffled as to why we teach children in the way that we do in this country. We effectively set them up to fail. We’re not taught to be creative, think for ourselves or even work independently. These are all vital skills needed in life as well as the workplace. This kind of education focuses on performance rather than the actual learning. This is the opposite of what is intended by education.

 In the brilliant book titled ‘How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice’ the authors demonstrate how classrooms and learning need to be designed around the way in which children learn rather than a standardised one size fits all method. This means using books but also, experimentation, inquiry, technology and cooperative learning. Using different techniques gives children a richer understanding of what they are learning and this will lead to better performance.

For this to be effective testing will also have to be changed in order to allow different methods of teaching. This would mean more personalised testing that assesses understanding rather than surface level knowledge that is memorised from a textbook. This research is not new. This book was written in 1999! Why have governments not changed their approach to education?

It is not just the academic learning in schools that should be changed. I wrote a piece for this website a number of months ago on the impending mental health crisis that has been building due to COVID-19. Good practices to maintain mental health, how to form healthy relationships and how to support others with mental health issues must be taught in schools. As adults we’re expected to just work it out but it’s difficult to do so on our own. Being taught these things in schools would create happier and healthier adults for the future.

Teaching tolerance, how to respect women properly and consent are also things that need to be instilled into young people. I’m at university at the moment and the amount of people who do not understand these three things is staggering. How can we expect hate crimes and rape statistics to decrease if we do not teach young people why these things are wrong and how we can avoid them. 

In 2018 the government set out three purposes of education; economy, culture and preparation for adult life. I cannot see how any of these three purposes are  being fulfilled. In 2019 18% of children left school without five GCSEs and a quarter of people leaving primary schools cannot properly read or write. How can we possibly categorise this as a success? Culture is vaguely defined by waffling drivel by the government. I would personally substitute this with instilling people with good values such as tolerance, respect and generosity.

These are difficult to measure but are vital for a healthy community. Preparation for adult life is perhaps one where the government lets us down the most. Do you know how to pay your taxes? National Insurance? Know what pension schemes are the best? Good ways to invest money? Good ways to budget? How to help a friend going through mental health problems? Know how to build healthy relationships? Nope, me neither. As adults you have to teach yourself. I don’t need to give statistics for this. We all know this kind of education is woeful.

The halt to education because of COVID-19 was the best chance in decades that we have had to tear up the old education system and build it from the ground up. This chance was missed and I think millions of people will suffer as a result.

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Last Update: July 22, 2021