MINISTERS have been told the disadvantaged are poorly targeted in the crisis of lost schooling in Scotland.

However, new research shows that Scotland’s funding levels for pupil catch-up are also the highest in the UK.

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) published its latest findings after the Scottish Government announced £60 million of additional investment in Covid-related education recovery, including the employment of more teachers, classroom support staff and facilities management. Experts say per pupil funding north of the Border now stands at £200. 

But a new analysis by the Education Policy Institute says that catch-up plans in Wales and Northern Ireland are far better targeted, with a greater share of funding aimed at disadvantaged pupils – whose learning has been hardest hit by the disruption to schools.

Around half of Welsh and Northern Irish catch-up funding has been targeted towards poorer pupils, compared to 30% in England and just 20% in Scotland.

READ MORE: Ministers urged to do more in £2.8bn crisis of lost schooling in Scotland

The EPI said that the English and Scottish programmes are "poorly targeted" and that while the plans all represent welcome additional support, they are all "modest compared with the scale of the challenge", with pupils so far missing out on about half a year of normal face-to-face schooling.

It comes two weeks after at study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies said ministers are failing to commit enough funds to meet a "crisis in lost learning" as the cost of lost schooling due to the pandemic in Scotland is estimated to be at least £2.8 billion.

In total governments across the UK have allocated what it described as a "plainly inadequate" £1.5bn towards catch-up.

The analysis references the Scottish Government saying it was investing an additional £100 million over the next two years to tackle the impact of lockdown and ensure children get the support they need. But it said the catch-up resources should be far higher.

The EPI analysis, which compares the programmes established by governments of the UK (England), Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, shows that after almost a year of disruption to education, each nation’s plans to help pupils catch up differ markedly in their level of resources and focus.

The study funded by the Nuffield Foundation says that Scotland’s plan spans the longest period, covering this academic year and next.

The UK government has committed some extra funding for next year for England, while current Welsh and Northern Irish plans end this summer.

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The EPI say all nations have failed to provide adequate guidance on supporting vulnerable pupils who have special educational needs (SEND) with remote learning.

The researchers concluded that all the current catch-up plans are insufficient and that that governments should put in place multi-year education programmes which address the scale of learning loss.

The report found that children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have faced considerable challenges with remote learning, with many lacking access to specialised support: Funding to support children with SEND was announced in Northern Ireland and England in the autumn term, in the spring term in Wales, but not yet in Scotland, it said.

Commenting on the new report, Luke Sibieta, author and research fellow at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: “All four UK nations have faced common challenges following the massive disruption to education, but this analysis shows that despite this, their approaches to academic catch-up programmes contrast significantly. 

“The Scottish and UK governments have so far committed the most catch-up funding, however the programmes for both Scotland and England are poorly targeted. In comparison, we find that the programmes of Wales and Northern Ireland have lower funding in total, but focus more resources on the poorest pupils, who we know have been hardest hit. 

“We know that the adverse effects of the pandemic will persist well beyond this academic year, so policymakers across the UK must look at providing additional catch-up funding over multiple years, with far greater levels targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils. Only then will we begin to meet the scale of the challenge posed by this crisis.”

David Laws, executive chairman of the EPI added: “It is very clear that current education catch-up proposals offer only a fraction of the support that is needed to deal with the huge amount of lost learning time.

"Next week, alongside the decisions on school reopening, the Prime Minister should announce the first stage of an ambitious, multi-year programme of support for education recovery. The costs of lost learning time are likely to be very large, both in terms of national output and social mobility. We now need a set of solutions that will match the magnitude of this challenge.

“This is a recovery that needs to happen across the UK, so the leaders of the devolved nations must also urgently set out their own multi-year education support plans.”

An Scottish Government spokesman said: “We know that Covid is affecting the learning of all children and young people and we have published an Equity Audit examining the particular impact on children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. We have committed to investing over £300 million in education recovery over 2020/21 and 2021/22 that has helped recruit an additional 1,400 teachers and over 200 support staff. This funding has also helped address digital exclusion supporting local authorities to provide over 63,000 devices and over 11,000 connectivity solutions to disadvantaged children and young people.

“We are investing £182m in the Scottish Attainment Challenge in 2021/22, including £127m in Pupil Equity Funding to support those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Since March 2020, this has enabled the provision of tablets to support digital learning at home and support for home-school link workers to maintain regular contact with children. It has also supported summer learning and support programmes, free food and additional learning materials. This builds on the £750m investment in the Scottish Attainment Challenge over the course of this Parliament.

“Separately, we have provided £51m to councils in 2020-21 for free school meal alternatives during remote learning and school holidays. £15 million invested from our Connecting Scotland programme has distributed 23,000 Chromebook and iPads and two years unlimited data to low income families with children and young people leaving care who are digitally excluded.”