Pupils in England whose learning has been severely disrupted by the pandemic could lose up to £46,000 in lifetime earnings, costing the economy hundreds of billions of pounds, without additional government investment, according to research.
The report by the Educational Policy Institute (EPI) identified stark regional differences in learning loss – with pupils in parts of the north and Midlands worst affected – which it warned would undermine the government’s levelling-up agenda.
It also said the government’s national tutoring programme, set up to support disadvantaged children who have lost out the most, was faltering with low take-up in the north, where it is most needed, and that schools were struggling to meet growing costs.
The EPI’s modelling found that pupils in England would lose at least £16,000 in earnings – rising to £46,000 for those who have experienced the most learning loss – if the government fails to intervene. Researchers estimated that the total cost to the economy in the long run could be as high as £463bn.
Natalie Perera, the EPI chief executive, said the government’s £3.1bn education recovery programme fell well short of the £13.5bn funding package the EPI believes is required to help children catch up, and called on the Treasury to prioritise education recovery in the forthcoming spending review.
“Without a bold education recovery funding settlement targeted at those pupils who need it most, any wider plans from the government to address longstanding regional inequalities are consigned to fail,” she said.
According to the EPI, the government is spending about £310 a pupil on education recovery, compared with £2,000 a pupil in the US and the Netherlands. On regional disparities, it said average learning loss in primary maths measured last December ranged between 0.5 months in the south-west and 5.3 months in Yorkshire and the Humber.
Dr Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, accused the government of seeking education recovery on the cheap. “Recovery will require years of work and investment. It is for the government to meet that funding challenge in the comprehensive spending review to make sure no child is left behind.”
Nick Brook, the deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the government’s tutoring “revolution” had the potential to help level the playing field between rich and poor pupils. “But unless government shift up a gear, this revolution is set to stall,” he added.
A government spokesperson said: “We are significantly expanding the national tutoring programme this year, building on the progress from last year when more than 300,000 children benefited, and giving schools more flexibility to deliver tutoring that works for them and their families.”