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Ministers considering ‘lengthening school day’ to aid children’s catch up

Ministers are reportedly discussing proposals to extend the school day in order to help children catch up on missed learning during the coronavirus lockdown.

It comes as Boris Johnson faces pressure from Tory backbenchers to bring forward the phased reopening of schools in line with Wales and Scotland where devolved administrations have announced some children will return on 22 February.

The prime minister is due to set out the “roadmap” to easing the lockdown during the same week, but has insisted that schools in England will not return before 8 March. 

According to The Daily Telegraph, officials at the Department for Education (DfE) are considering a range of proposals to help children try and recover lost learning, including the lengthening of the school day. 

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons Education Committee, told the newspaper he had discussed the idea with officials at the department. The plan could include charities and volunteers running out-of-hours class and extra-curricular activities, meaning teachers may not be required to stay late.

“They are definitely considering all these ideas,” he said. “I think they are receptive and thinking about it seriously.”

“The catch-up money can be used to fund civil society groups to help with the extended school day. Kids have been locked inside, their mental health has suffered, so there needs to be a lot of mental health support as well as academic help if needed.”

The Department for Education declined to be drawn on the reports, but a government spokesperson said: “We will invest a further £300 million in tutoring programmes, building on the existing £1 billion Covid catch up fund, but the prime minister has been clear that extended schools closures have had a huge impact on pupils’ education, which will take more than a year to make up.

“The government will work with parents, teachers and schools to develop a long-term plan to make sure pupils have the chance to make up their lost education over the course of this parliament — and we have just appointed Sir Kevin Collins to the role of education recovery commissioner, to specifically oversee this issue.”

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, the children’s commissioner Anne Longfield stressed the classrooms must reopen at the “first opportunity”, saying the impact on children being away from school was “absolutely immense” on their wellbeing.

“At the heart of all this is that children are getting very different experiences and in every likelihood, those children who started behind and most disadvantaged have fallen further behind, we know that now.”

She added: “The pressure now on getting that catch-up in place, getting children to the point where they can start to get their confidence back and rebuild really needs to start in huge earnest.

“Which is why I’m really pushing for not only a kind of one year catch-up, but something that will go over the next two to three years to try to get children, as many as possible, not only back to where they should have been but also ahead.”

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