AN URGENT “education recovery” programme is needed to help pupils from south Asian backgrounds catch up at school due to the impact of the pandemic, experts have urged.
They have sought extra funding and resources in order to close the gap after new government figures showed a sharp drop in the proportion of youngsters from Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds meeting development targets in areas including communication, literacy and numeracy.
Among Bangladeshi four to five-yearolds, the percentage of those who met the expected standard in development was 59, while the corresponding figure for those from an Indian heritage was 69 and 57 per cent in the Pakistani community for the 2021-2022 school year.
These figures were lower than those in the 2018-2019 school year, when it was 67 per cent for the Bangladeshi group, 78 per cent among children of Indian origin and 64 per cent among those of Pakistani heritage, the Department for Education data showed.
Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said it has been known for some time that the government’s decisions during the pandemic had “disproportionately adverse impacts” on certain social groups, including ethnic minorities.
He told Eastern Eye: “The pandemic exposed deep inequalities across the country, and while the impact on children and families from south Asian backgrounds was also apparent, the government has refused to acknowledge the scale of the problem or to provide the extra resources needed to tackle lost learning and to close the educational inequality gap.
“A programme of education recovery is needed, to be properly and fully funded across all schools, with additional support provided for children, young people and families who suffered most during the pandemic.
“Schools have a critical role in securing recovery, but they also need the support of wider children’s services, which are already struggling to cope with rising levels of demand.”
The figures, published in November, also showed that overall, 63.4 per cent of four to five-year-olds met the expected development standard in all 17 early learning goals in 2021-2022. Some 71.7 per cent of pupils from the Chinese ethnic group met the standard, the highest percentage out of all ethnic groups.
And, among Asian pupils, girls were more likely than boys to meet the expected standard in 136 out of 147 local authorities where data was available.
Amarbeer Singh Gill, a maths teacher and CEO of education charity Inspired Learning, told Eastern Eye: “The pandemic has had a significant impact on children’s development due to the missed social and learning time.
“Children have missed those opportunities that are so crucial in early life as they can be harder to learn later on in life, particularly things like motor skills, for example handwriting.
“There should be additional funding and resourcing given for this generation to close that gap and enjoy the same developmental opportunities as their older peers.”
In the first national Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, the majority of nurseries and other early years settings were closed. They were allowed to re-open to all children in June 2020 with safety measures in place.
A report in June by MPs found that some pupils face a “lost decade” of progress in schools in England if action is not taken and warned it could take 10 years for the gap between disadvantaged children and others to narrow to what it was before Covid.
Tiffnie Harris is primary specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders union.
Harris said: “The early years foundation stage profile was revised in 2021 so we cannot make direct comparisons with the last set of data in 2018-2019 prior to the pandemic.
“However, the disruption of the Covid pandemic clearly hit every phase of education, including early years provision which is so important to establishing the building blocks of learning.
“We repeatedly called on the government to invest more funding into education recovery, but it failed to do so at the scale required.
“Schools are working hard to support children’s education and help them catchup, but this is not helped by the fact that education in general, and primary education in particular, is so poorly funded. Variations in early years results between ethnic groups require further research to understand the factors involved.”
A separate report found the attainment of white British pupils has declined relative to other ethnic groups in the wake of the pandemic.
Higher-attaining ethnic groups have generally “pulled further away” from white British pupils between 2019 and 2022, according to the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank. Disadvantaged pupils were around one year behind their non-disadvantaged peers at the end of primary school and almost two years behind by the end of secondary school in 2022, the study found.
The Department for Education said it has made £5 billion available for education recovery and it remains committed to addressing the attainment gap, which is why the National Tutoring Programme is targeted at the most disadvantaged students and has had over three million course starts, backed by more than £1 billion investment.