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Britain needs a ‘Nightingale moment’ for school pupils, argues children’s commissioner

Britain’s children need a ‘Nightingale moment’ or the country risks ‘losing an entire generation for good’, the children’s commissioner has warned.

Anne Longfield said schools needed more funding to train teachers, look after their most disadvantaged pupils and provide mental health services.

She also called for more money to be made available to prepare educational institutions for a return to remote-learning in case of a second lockdown.

Children lost more than five months of education last year, after the national lockdown was put in place in March and the government failed to get them back to school before the summer.

She compared the resources provided to education to the £35billion spent on furlough, and millions more spent building Nightingale hospitals and keeping public transport running.

‘The government needs to be bold, and on the sort of scale that saw hospitals built in weeks, and workers paid in furlough, to make sure no child is left behind,’ she told The Guardian.

‘If not, they risk losing a generation for good. The stakes are simply that high.

‘Kids have not had their Nightingale moment during the crisis, but if it comes at this stage, where there’s a determination to do things differently for children and help the most disadvantaged fully in life, that would be a great Nightingale moment to have.’

She added that children should never have to face the same level of disruption to their education again, and further closures should only take place as a last resort.

She also called for focused intervention for the 120,000 vulnerable teenagers with a history of being excluded from school.

‘After five months out of school, they may now feel school is not part of their lives,’ she said.

‘They will be the kids who are more vulnerable to violence and grooming and gangs. They will need particular support and encouragement to go into school, and real intervention.

‘I’m talking about youth workers, working with the police, working with schools and social services to make sure they have a package of support and protection around them so they don’t fall out and become lost.’

As much as £1billion has already been earmarked to help schools catch-up through providing support learning, much of it focused on one-to-one and small group tutoring.

As much as £350million of it will go to tutoring disadvantaged children, while the remainder will be shared across primary and secondary schools over the academic year to help all children who have lost out on teaching time. 

But Longfield said this was not enough, pointing out that children had missed out on months of their education due to the lockdown.

The government has had its feet held to the fire over the previous weeks following the disastrous exams debacle.

Thousands of students heading into A-levels and universities received results developed by an algorithm based on schools performance in the past before the government U-turned and gave them the grades their teachers had predicted.

It emerged that around 280,000 pupils had had their results marked down by the algorithm after moderation.

Anne Longfield is due to step down as children’s commissioner in February after six years in the post.

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