Westminster Education Forum

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Raising educational attainment in the wake of COVID-19, and the impact of the National Tutoring Programme

May 2021

Price: £95 PLUS VAT

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference is examining policy priorities for raising educational attainment in the wake of the pandemic, as well as the next steps for the National Tutoring Programme.

We are pleased to be able to include keynote contributions from: Matt Hood, Principal, Oak National Academy; Professor Becky Francis, Chief Executive, Education Endowment Foundation; Dr Melanie Ehren, Professor of Educational Governance and Director of Research Institute LEARN!, VU Amsterdam, and Honorary Professor, Institute of Education, University College London; and Phil Hyde, Audit Manager, Education VFM Team, National Audit Office.

Areas for discussion include:

  • priorities and options for supporting early years, primary and secondary students in catching up in the wake of COVID-19
  • international perspectives on catch-up tutoring
  • supporting educational attainment in deprived communities
  • the effect of student mental health concerns on educational attainment

The agenda includes case studies on:

  • local and community partnerships and their role in supporting early development
  • school partnerships and collaboration, and their impact on raising attainment
  • effective use of resources for catch-up studies
  • joining up services and targeting support for disadvantaged children

The conference is bringing together stakeholders with a range of key policy officials who are due to attend from the DfE, Ofsted; the NAO; and the DCMS.

The agenda

  • Assessing government policy for supporting children’s education during the pandemic and outlook for addressing learning loss
  • Priorities for catching up on learning and delivering the National Tutoring Programme
  • Key issues for attainment in the wake of the pandemic
    • Improving provision and access to remote education
    • Factors underlying regional disparities in educational inequality and priorities for supporting areas most in need
    • Student mental health in the wake of the pandemic and effect on educational attainment
  • Strategies to repair learning loss and improve well-being - insights from international practice
  • Case studies in raising attainment
    • The evidence base on the attainment gap and how it can inform strategies going forward
    • Best practice in the effective use of resources for catch-up studies
    • Targeting support for disadvantaged children and joining up services
    • Raising attainment through school partnerships and collaboration
  • Catch-up studies at secondary level - subject-areas of focus, adjustments to examinations, and supporting transitions into post-16 study
  • Next steps for supporting educational attainment

Areas for discussion:

The National Tutoring Programme:

  • assessing impact and next steps, including:
    • the extent to which the programme has helped disadvantaged students catch up on their studies
    • how to improve outreach and effectively use catch-up funds moving forward
  • adjustments in delivery and meeting targets:
    • following changes to national restrictions - with providers having had to switch their offer online during national lockdowns
    • schedule - with the programme expected to fall behind, as tuition sessions are being postponed and concentrated later in the academic year
  • future use - assessing the impact of recent school closures on the scale of need for catch-up tutoring, and in light of the DfE planning to continue running the programme in the 2021-22 academic year

Factors influencing the attainment gap - both during and after the pandemic, such as:

  • the digital divide - the impact of inequalities in access to digital equipment on educational attainment, with discussion around:
    • governmental and third sector support - the effectiveness so far of efforts to boost the supply of devices
    • support at home - the impact of digital skills in households on capacity to support children with remote study
    • EdTech - the future use of technology to support in-person learning, and the role of the digital divide in post-pandemic educational attainment
  • regional disparities in educational attainment:
    • impact on social mobility - assessing implications of geographical variation for educational attainment post-pandemic
    • policy:
      • harnessing the Government’s policy drive to ‘level up’ the country
      • policy options such as targeted funding for schools in deprived areas
  • mental health:
    • the impact of poor mental health on students’ capacity to effectively get up to speed on studies
    • defining reasonable expectations for educational catch-up targets
    • assessing initiatives and options, including:
      • targeted support for children whose wellbeing has been hardest hit
      • the use of counsellors within schools, as well as improving collaboration between schools and local mental health services

International catch-up tutoring:

  • international programmes - comparing and contrasting England’s catch-up plans to those of other countries, and assessing options such as repeating school years 
  • the agenda includes a contribution on international best practice from: Dr Melanie Ehren, Professor of Educational Governance and Director of Research Institute LEARN!, VU Amsterdam

Supporting educational attainment across early years, primary and secondary studies - including case studies around:

  • effective uses of resources:
    • allocation of space and time and establishing targeted support groups based on levels of need
    • the use of volunteers to ease teacher workloads
    • opportunities for joining-up parts of the syllabus between different subjects for effective learning
  • school-to-school support:
    • sharing of best practice between schools
    • the impact of the EdTech Demonstrator Programme on attainment
    • partnerships between the state and independent sectors

Supporting attainment amongst secondary level and post-16 students:

  • examinations and curricula - evaluating proposals for:
    • schools to temporarily teach slimmed-down curricula in an effort to focus on catching up on key subjects, and for content on 2022 GCSE examinations to be cut down
    • establishing balance between targeted catch-up studies and providing a well-rounded education, looking at:
      • impact - the long-term effects of slimmed-down education on educational standards and transitions
      • post-16 learning - the impact of the 16 to 19 Tuition Fund, as well as joining up efforts between schools, colleges and universities to support transitions into post-16 study

A scan of relevant developments:

  • schools and colleges having reopened on 8th March, as a part of the PM’s Roadmap for leaving lockdown
  • New education recovery package for children and young people - a fund worth £700m for helping young people catch up on learning, with a focus on tutoring in small groups and individually, on early learning amongst disadvantaged children, and summer schools
  • Billion pound COVID catch-up plan to tackle impact of lost teaching time - the Government’s announcement last year, accompanied by the £350m National Tutoring Programme, which aims to provide the most disadvantaged students with high-quality tuition
  • New Commissioner appointed to oversee education catch-up - the DfE announcement of Sir Kevan Collins as Education Recovery Commissioner
  • options for enabling children to catch up:
    • including considerations such as virtual classes, and online lessons
    • with the Education Secretary having recently mentioned that government are considering lengthening school days and shortening holidays
  • Kick-start for summer school and activities - the announcement of £200m funding, aiming to help students who have experienced the most disruption during the pandemic, including:
    • academic support, sports and activities
    • mental health and wellbeing advice
  • The impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services - the Education Select Committee inquiry focusing on how vulnerable children are affected, in both the short- and long-term
  • Education in England: Annual Report 2020 - the Education Policy Institute’s annual report, which highlights the state of play with educational attainment in the wake of the pandemic, with findings indicating a stalling of progress in closing attainment gaps, including:
    • the gap between disadvantaged students and their peers having recently ceased closing for the first time in a decade, accompanied by early indications that it has begun widening again
    • the primary-level attainment gap having widened for the first time since 2007, now amounting to 9.3 months’ worth of learning
    • recent increases of students struggling with persistent poverty contributing to the slowing down of progress to close the disadvantage gap
    • disadvantage gaps remaining particularly acute in West Midlands, the North, and parts of Southern England, with poorer pupils being over two years behind in some areas
  • the 16 to 19 Tuition Fund - a one-off funding package for the 2020-21 academic year, worth £96m, helping 16-19 providers provide small group tuition in English, maths and other courses to mitigate against the disruption caused by the pandemic
  • the new Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework:
    • including an increased focus on language, literacy and numeracy skills and due to be made statutory from September 2021 onwards
    • with early adopter providers currently testing out the framework
  • Early years support package to help close COVID language gap - including £9m for supporting early language skills and £23m for Maintained Nursery Schools in the 2021 summer term
  • Remote education research - a recent Ofsted report on remote education finding students struggling to engage and stay motivated with remote study, and with students with SEND in particular facing challenges in this area
  • Ofsted: Children hardest hit by COVID-19 pandemic are regressing in basic skills and learning - including falling back on progress with early literacy and numeracy, potty-trained children going back to using nappies, and worsening mental health and wellbeing
  • Siobhain McDonagh urges Boris Johnson to address digital divide among pupils - LabourList reporting the open letter co-signed by other MPs and a number of interested organisations, highlighting the impact of digital inequalities on educational attainment during compulsory remote education
  • Government support for remote learning:
    • DfE’s Get Help With Technology Programme - providing devices to students unable to access in-person education due to the pandemic
    • EdTech Demonstrator Programme - for schools and colleges, offering peer-led support for schools on sharing best practice on EdTech and remote learning
    • The Oak National Academy - providing free weekly video lessons across a range of subjects, covering each year group from reception to year 10

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from the DCMS; the Department for Education; the National Audit Office; and Ofsted.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government and regulatory officials involved in this area of policy, as well as from schools and teaching professionals, education consultancies, university academics, alternative teaching providers, subject associations, exam boards, assessment providers, representatives of trade unions and local government, edtech providers, groups representing parents and students, specialist academics and charities, together with reporters from the national and specialist media.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Shortly after every Westminster Education Forum seminar, a briefing document is produced. This is distributed to all delegates on the day as well as to our policymaker contacts in government, and to stakeholders more widely.

A seminar publication provides a timely record of proceedings, and acts as a guide to the latest thinking on current policy issues for those unable to be at the event.

This publication includes


Contributions from keynotes and panellists, including accompanying slides*
*Subject to approval

Delegate Pack

Information from the day, including delegate list, biographies and agenda


Transcript of questions and comments posed to speakers from attending delegates


Supplementary articles from speakers
and delegates