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PAC warns on ‘lost decade’ in education for disadvantaged children

7 June 2023

  • Prospects for a generation of children could be damaged without faster action from Government
  • One in eight schools did not take up National Tutoring Programme recovery scheme in 2021/22
  • Pupil absence higher than pre-pandemic, particularly among disadvantaged pupils

In a report today the Public Accounts Committee expresses alarm that it may take a decade for the gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and others to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Years of progress since 2012 to narrow the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and others had been reversed by 2022, according to Key Stage test results, and Government expects it may take another ten years to return this gap to the level at which it was before the pandemic. 

A key plank of the Government’s education recovery programme, the National Tutoring Programme, was not taken up by 13% of schools in England, with pupils at these schools missing out on the benefits of subsidised tutoring. Government must do more to understand and improve these disappointing results, with the Committee further warning that schools may not be able to afford to provide tutoring once DfE reduces its subsidy rates. 

The Committee calls on DfE to take targeted action to reduce absence rates among disadvantaged pupils in addition to ongoing work to improve attendance. Absence across the board is higher than before the pandemic, but also remain highest for disadvantaged pupils. 

After multiple delays and much pushing, DfE’s special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) improvement plan has been published - but the timetable stretches beyond 2025 while the children affected continue to make their way through the school system. The Committee expects DfE to get on with the necessary improvements as quickly as possible, making clear the respective responsibilities and accountabilities of the education and health systems. 

 Chair's comments

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The DfE does not seem to appreciate the pressures schools are under as they seek to help pupils catch up amid funding constraints, challenges in recruitment and retention for staff and growing mental health needs for pupils. It is therefore essential that Government reckons with the reality of the situation and publishes focused plans on reducing the disadvantage gap and absence rates. It must also bolster uptake of tuition, an essential programme at risk of withering on the vine as subsidies are sharply reduced. 

The consequences of a lost decade in progress narrowing the gap in attainment for disadvantaged children are immeasurable. Without swift action, the slow-motion catastrophe of the pandemic for children’s education, and in particular for disadvantaged children, will continue to have far-reaching consequences for an entire generation.”

Further information

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