The Return of the Jedi

Covid-19 will significantly exacerbate the education gap between rich and poor students. In 2019, disadvantaged pupils in English schools lagged behind their more affluent peers by the equivalent of 18.1 months of learning by the time they finished their GCSEs. At primary school, this gap was 9.3 months. Several steps have been taken to address this such as setting up the National Tutoring Programme. We still need a better high-quality teaching intervention plan for at least a couple of years to bridge the attainment gap. This can be done making use of the pool of qualified teachers who are out of service and giving them tax credits to return to teaching. This is the Return of the Jedi. When normality returns in a post-vaccination world, disadvantaged pupils will require intensive face-to-face support. Students who struggled in a traditional classroom environment will have fared far worse trying to cope with online and remote learning techniques. There are research studies which suggest that in-person learning is, on average, more effective. Being in person with teachers and other students creates social pressures and benefits that helps motivate students to engage. This is particularly true for students with weaker academic backgrounds. The Government’s focus so far has been on vulnerable children. However, there is a wider group of children who are at risk of educational disadvantage during this lockdown: low-income families above the Universal Credit threshold and not receiving free school meals as well as young carers who have come under particular strain. We suggest that local authorities should be given the freedom to include more pupils in the ‘pupil premium’ bracket based on criteria such as above. All such children would be eligible for the Jedi treatment. The School Workforce Census published on 25 June 2020 states that there were 33,565 qualified teachers who are out of service. These are teachers who are taking a break from teaching and who may return to teaching in a later year as well as those who are leaving the profession. Furthermore, there were 5,979 qualified teachers who retired. There is a pool of nearly 40,000 qualified teachers which can be tapped for this cause. The Jedi should return. Even if 10% of this pool of qualified teachers enrol, we have a batch of 4,000 Jedis who can be deployed immediately. The enrolment should happen centrally – an interested Jedi would register their details with their teacher reference number and disclosure details, if available, would be checked or referenced. The aspiring Jedi would indicate preference for two local authorities along with the subject(s) that they will teach. Mind the Gap is a face-to-face, individual or small-group, school-based programme and therefore convenience of commute for the Jedi must be borne in mind. Local authorities will assess the numbers of disadvantaged pupils (using the new, wider definition) in primary and secondary state schools in their areas. The schools will determine the groups – preferably not more than five pupils – in each subject area that needs support. Using the Jedi enrolment database, schools will select qualified teachers who are needed for Mind the Gap in their schools. There is a wide resource base present in our schools – textbooks, computers, practice workbooks – and we suggest making use of these. Mind the Gap can be run before, during and after school hours – its administration is best left in the hands of the school leadership team. Each learning session would be for an hour’s duration and the Jedi can do as many sessions in a day in that school as is practicable. Each Jedi will be given a timetable by the school before the start of the school term after mutual agreement. It is in the payment mechanism that we suggest a different solution. The pandemic has already burdened the exchequer and more cash handouts as proposed in the National Tutoring Programme (£1 billion) puts further strain. We recommend that the government give tax credits – instead of cash payments – to the Jedis who have returned to participate in the “Mind the Gap” programme. Each Jedi can earn up to £10,000 in tax credits a year by tutoring under this programme. The tax credit can be used to offset income tax and would be available for use anytime in the next ten years. It could also be used to offset other liabilities such as student loans which the government might decide. Such tax credit payments will be school-certified each term by at least two persons – one from the school leadership and the second from the relevant year or department. This will be done electronically at a website maintained by the Department of Education and then passed on to HMRC. We suggest a payment rate of £25 per hour for primary school lesson and £40 per hour at the secondary school level. The hourly rate is for lesson delivered at the school and excludes the time taken to commute and preparation for the lesson by the Jedi. Assuming Mind the Gap is delivered to 500,000 disadvantaged children in the country in groups of five pupils, this means 100,000 groups in action. Each school will determine how many Mind the Gap sessions in different subjects will be delivered. If 3 subjects are under the programme with 2 sessions per subject each week, this entails 600,000 weekly sessions across the country. At an average of £30 per session, running Mind the Gap for 30 weeks a year hands out tax credits of £540m to the Jedis annually. This cost is matched by the benefit to the economy as it narrows the attainment gap. UK spends an average of £5,500 per pupil each year in the state schools. For 500,000 disadvantaged students, the annual cost is £2,750 million. If Mind the Gap narrows the attainment gap by 2.5 months, the economy gains by £573m. Can the country put a value on the boldness, confidence and intelligence of its youth?




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