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The schools pandemic recovery plan must ensure the attainment gap does not widen

Kevan Collins
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Gregg Vignal/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Gregg Vignal/Alamy

First and foremost, I am a teacher. In the classroom, or outside it as the years have gone by, my priority has always been children and young people – particularly the most disadvantaged.

I took the post of education recovery commissioner to work with families, educators and government for a fair recovery. It must be fair to the children and young people who have been affected in so many ways.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, England had seen its attainment gap narrow, but if we do not act, we could witness a decade of progress unwind.

This matters because educational attainment is the best predictor we have of a young person’s long-term outcomes. A wide attainment gap is a guarantee of an unequal society.

Related: Pupil wellbeing must be priority, teachers say as classrooms in England reopen

Over the last year children have also lost out on countless other opportunities to learn and grow – through engagement in art, music, sport and play.

Our recovery must also be fair to the teachers, who have shown extraordinary resilience and dedication. Great teaching is the most important lever schools have to improve outcomes for their pupils, but the burden of recovery cannot be borne by schools alone.

So far, the government has committed £1.7bn to support schools and pupils. This has provided flexible funding to support all pupils, as well as ringfenced support for summer activity and tutoring. Nobody can argue this is not an important start. But further, sustained support is needed.

Related: Schools: ventilation and testing will be key in England's 'big bang' reopening

My priority in the coming weeks will be to talk to parents and school leaders, as children return to school. We must act with urgency, but it is also right to take the time to develop a comprehensive approach, based on evidence and teachers’ professional expertise.

Nothing is off the table and we should look ahead in the full knowledge that our recovery plan needs to cover at least the next three years and will affect the shape of our system for a generation.

An approach that works will provide academic help, but also offer opportunities for young people to participate in drama, sport, music and social activities – all aspects of education that children have missed out on in the last year.

Where radical solutions are needed, we will find them. The pandemic has shown the incredible levels of innovation in our system, with teachers and parents adapting quickly to new circumstances to keep children learning. The recovery must capture the best of this innovation and collaboration.

Together, we have the expertise to meet the challenge of recovery. We must confront it fearlessly, working to rebuild a stronger, fairer system.

  • Sir Kevan Collins is the education recovery commissioner