Young people of all ages constantly surprise me by how resilient and adaptable they are. I have been visiting schools since term started in England last month to see the introduction of the new Covid-19 protective measures. It is clear that children and teachers have hit the ground running despite the extra precautions.
We know how much children have missed school, and not just the education they receive there. They have missed being with their friends and interacting with their teachers in the classroom.
Dealing with the pandemic has been a steep learning curve for all of us and we continue to assess and develop how we react and manage it. Teachers, parents and pupils have all gone above and beyond in how they have adapted.
Now the vast majority of children are back in school, it is still going to take time to address the consequences of the past six months. Children have lost a significant amount of time in their education. For some that will have a more acute impact on their development.
Our £1bn Covid-19 catch-up fund will support all pupils, and ensure those who are at greatest risk of slipping behind their peers have access to individual tutoring. The evidence shows that targeted one-to-one interventions like this are the quickest and most effective way to make significant gains in attainment where it is needed most. This will be absolutely crucial in our attempt to stop the disadvantage gap widening as a result of the pandemic.
I know that there may be some parents who continue to have reservations about sending their children to school. I would urge them to speak to their school if that is the case. As the Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated last month, it is so important for children to be in school, as it is the best place for them to learn and develop.
All of us are aware that Covid-19 has not gone away. There will continue to be cases in our communities, and schools are, not unexpectedly, having to handle a small number of positive cases. We have a robust plan to handle these as they arise. When there is a positive test result and the person is known to have been in school, those they have had close contact with will be sent home to self-isolate and remote education will be put in place. It is worth pointing out that the vast majority of cases we have seen so far are not occurring as a result of transmission inside schools themselves.
Although I have said that children are taking the new Covid-19 precautions in their stride, there will be some for whom lockdown and the return to school has been a stressful and unnerving time. That is why we are investing £8m in a new training programme to help schools and colleges support children as they return to the classroom. The programme will be run by mental health experts, to help improve how schools respond to the emotional impact of the pandemic on their students and staff.
The Wellbeing for Education Return programme will support staff in schools and colleges as they respond to the additional pressures some children and young people may be feeling due to the pandemic. It will provide additional support for those who may be experiencing bereavement, stress, trauma or anxiety as a result of the past months.
As teachers know all too well, schools play a key role in supporting children, particularly those who have very difficult home lives. This is an aspect of their jobs that many members of the public are unaware of, and which is often taken for granted. That is why we recently announced a £6.5m scheme to expand the number of social workers placed in schools.
This year has been hugely challenging for all of us. It is a pandemic, so it was always going to make us far more aware of our health, but it is important that we remember to look after our mental wellbeing and resilience, too.
We are keeping a very close eye on how the autumn term progresses, and are ready to support schools. As part of that we have commissioned research to build a national picture of children’s catch-up needs to understand where we might need to target support.
This will help teachers get on with what they do best, which is teaching children.
Nick Gibb is minister of state for school standards