MPs Confess Department for Education Had No Covid Plan

MPs Confess Department for Education Had No Covid Plan

Members of the parliamentary committee have revealed that the Department for Education (DfE) had no covid plan to manage the effects of the pandemic.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) released a report that says children had “very unequal experiences” during the end of the last academic year. According to the report, the DfE found it difficult to respond effectively to the issues happening in education. These issues included failure to set inclusive standards for in-school and remote learning.

The DfE rebutted this, saying it acted swiftly and provided extensive support to children who needed it. 

However, the report reveals that despite being a part of the cross-government exercise on dealing with a flu pandemic in 2016, the DfE was still “unprepared” for the obstacles created by the coronavirus. 

The PAC chair, Meg Hillier said: “The committee was concerned that the DfE appears uninterested in learning lessons from earlier in the pandemic, preferring to wait until the public inquiry which won’t report for years.

It shows little energy and determination to ensure that its ‘catch-up’ offer is sufficient to undo the damage of the past 14 months.”

The government still plans to publish its recovery covid plan for pupils in England to catch up on the learning they have missed out on because of the pandemic.

The PAC claim the evidence suggests the plans aimed at assisting poorer pupils through the £1.7bn catch-up programme are failing to reach them.

The report says the DfE “has worthy aspirations but little specific detail about how it will build the school system back better”.

Prolonged closure of schools had extremely damaging effects on vulnerable children with special education needs and those in care. 

Although they were still permitted to continue attending school, the percentage of vulnerable children who actually attended remained below 11% until the end of May 2020. The highest it reached was an average of 26%, by the end of the summer term.

The data also showed a decline in referrals to children’s social care services.  The referral rate fell by 15%, and remained atf 10% lower than last year this raises concerns about the ongoing “hidden harm” to children.

Hidden Harm

Previous research has shown a growing attainment gap between poorer pupils and their more affluent counterparts.

The government has given almost 1.3 million laptops and tablets to poorer pupils during the pandemic.

The pandemic has exposed “a very ugly truth” about the poor, disadvantaged children who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and the lack of a solid covid plan.

Meg Hillier added: “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.”

The general secretary of head teachers’ union NAHT, Paul Whiteman found the findings of the report “extremely disappointing but not surprising”.

“Throughout the pandemic, the DfE has been playing catch-up. The individual efforts of schools have almost always been quicker and better than anything centrally managed from Whitehall.”

The NAHT has launched its own plan for school recovery. They are calling for more “significant” investment from the government for recovery work to ensure the future life chances of young people are not harmed. 

A DfE spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic we have acted swiftly at every turn to help minimise the impact on pupils’ education and provide extensive support for schools, colleges and early years settings.

“The department has updated and strengthened its remote education expectations as best practice has developed and schools’ capabilities have increased.”

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