Education Recovery Plan: Embarrassment at Eat Out to Help Out comparison

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Awkward fact: The government spent £840m in one month on its August 2020 Eat Out to Help Out scheme. It plans to spend £984m on education recovery across the entire 2021/22 academic year... (image: Adobe Stock)

Last year’s ill-fated month-long Eat Out to Help Out scheme cost about the same as the government’s Education Recovery Plan for the next academic year.

This embarrassing fact has been highlighted ahead of a Parliamentary debate over the controversial and much-criticised Education Recovery Plan, which was unveiled last week.

The plan led to the resignation of the government’s own Education Recovery Commissioner Sir Kevan Collins and it was so lacking in ambition that the Department for Education (DfE) and its secretary of state Gavin Williamson came in for scathing criticism, even being accused of trying to "sneak out" the plan during half-term.

The sector had expected wide-ranging plans involving extended school days and more radical measures, and costing as much as £15bn.

In the end, just £1.4bn was announced over three years for further one-to-one and small group tutoring support via the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) and some teacher training support. Education unions blasted the government for a “lack of ambition” and it soon emerged that the Treasury had refused to sign off on more extensive plans, including extending the school day, put forward by the DfE in consultation with Sir Kevan.

An Opposition Day Motion has now been brought in Parliament over the debacle, with a debate taking place later today (Wednesday, June 9). Ahead of this, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has published its research analysis breaking down the DfE’s recovery spending ambitions – or lack of them.

Recovery spending in 2021/22 will include £467m – a third of the £1.4bn – as well as £215m for the NTP and the £302m for the Recovery Premium (both previously announced). This totals £984m.

The EPI analysis states: “Under the government’s current programme to support pupils’ recovery in England, an entire year of funding for the 2021/22 academic year, the key year for education recovery, will amount to around £984m – in contrast to the government’s flagship scheme to support restaurants, cafés and pubs in August 2020, which cost £840m.”

The £1.4bn over three years amounts to £50 per-pupil, per-year. The government had previously announced £1.7bn for initiatives such as the NTP, summer schools, and the recovery premium, which itself amounted to £250 per-pupil.

However, this spending and promised spending compares to £1,600 per-pupil committed by the US government and £2,500 per-pupil in the Netherlands for education recovery.

EPI research carried out with Renaissance Learning on behalf of the government (DfE, 2021) – published on Friday (June 4) – estimates that “learning losses” at primary level by the second half of the spring term stood at “an average loss of 3.5 months in maths for pupils in primary school and 2.2 months in reading for pupils in primary school”.

The EPI is due to publish more findings later this term on the “learning loss” experienced by disadvantaged primary pupils. However, it added: “By the first half of the autumn term (2020), average learning losses for disadvantaged pupils were 4.3 months in maths for pupils in primary school and two months in reading for pupils in primary school.”

The DfE’s recovery plan is dwarfed by much more detailed recovery proposals set out by the EPI in May, when it published plans for a three-year funding package totalling £13.5bn – around £500 per-pupil, per-year (Crenna-Jennings et al, 2021). The EPI’s recovery proposals included:

  • Summer wellbeing programmes.
  • One-to-one and small group tuition.
  • An increase and extension of the Pupil Premium.
  • Greater incentives for teachers to work in “challenging areas”.
  • Extra funding for schools to hire a mental health support worker.
  • New guidance for schools to support better wellbeing and inclusion.
  • Softer accountability measures for schools in 2021/22.
  • A new CPD fund for teachers.
  • A right to repeat the year for a small minority of pupils, if appropriate.

David Laws, executive chairman of the EPI, said: "The £1.4bn package of support is not of adequate size and appears to be only a tenth of what was proposed by the government's own Education Recovery Commissioner.

“It is striking that in one month the government spent almost as much subsidising meals in pubs and restaurants as it is now proposing to spend to fund education recovery over one full year for around nine million children.

"The next school year should be a year of education recovery. For this, schools and colleges will need a better funded plan which gives them a realistic chance to catch up on the lost learning."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, echoed the sentiment: “This research suggests the government thinks that children’s education is less important than measures to support the hospitality industry. It was willing to spend nearly as much on the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme over the course of a single month as it is on education recovery over the course of an entire academic year.

“The only possible conclusion is that the government does not attach the same importance to education as it does to other public spending priorities.”

  • Crenna-Jennings et al: Education recovery and resilience in England, EPI, May 2021: https://bit.ly/3crL2yY
  • DfE: Research and analysis: Pupils' progress in the 2020 to 2021 academic year: Interim report, June 2021: https://bit.ly/3condrG


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