'Every child back by September': PM looks to full reopening of schools after announcing £1bn catch-up plan

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, pictured in January, has announced his education catch-up plan Credit: Paul Ellis/PA

The prime minister has said "every child" should be back in school by September following the announcement of a £1 billion plan to help pupils in England catch up with their education after losing months to the coronavirus lockdown.

Boris Johnson has been vocal about his desire to have all children back in school as soon as possible and was forced to make a U-turn earlier in the crisis after initially aiming for all primary school children to return for a month before the summer holiday.

As a way to mitigate the time lost to lockdown, the PM is introducing a scheme which will see the most disadvantaged children in England given access to funds to pay for personal tutors.

The majority of the funding will allow schools to step in to cover lost teaching time.

Mr Johnson said last week that school pupils would undergo a “massive catch-up operation over the summer and beyond” to get up to speed on work they have missed, with thousands of youngsters having been out of class since March.

But he is determined no more education time will be lost after the summer holidays.

"Provided we can make the classrooms safe, and I think we can, I want every child, every pupil, every student back in September and I'm sure we can get it done," he said.

He added: "We've got to start thinking of a world in which we are less apprehensive about this disease."

On the fresh wave of summer funding, Mr Johnson admitted "the funds are broken down", allowing schools to "decide exactly what they want to spend on what their priority is".

He went on: "The thing that I think really matters is to get some more direct tuition, some one-to-one tuition for pupils - pupils who need remedial help, perhaps, who really need help because they've lost time to learn over the last few months.

"But then also for kids who have promise but who don't normally get it and this is one of the things I think we really want to develop as a government, the idea of really helping schools to give direct focus."

The prime minister said he would not force schools to give all children tuition, instead he will give them the "tools to give more help where they think that is appropriate".

Around £650m of funding will go to state primary and secondary schools and the remaining £350m will go on a National Tutoring Programme for disadvantaged children.

The money will mean the most disadvantaged children will have access to tutors through a £350 million national programme for the 2020/21 academic year, to prevent the attainment gap from widening further.

A further £650 million will be shared across state primary and secondary schools over the 2020-21 academic year to help children from all backgrounds who have lost teaching time, the Department for Education said.

While head teachers will decide how the money is spent, the Government expects it to be used for small group tuition for whoever needs it.

The Government was forced to abandon plans for all primary pupils to return before September due to social distancing constraints Credit: Jacob King/PA

The announcement comes after ministers were put under pressure to get children back to school amid concerns about the damage being caused to pupils’ attainment and wellbeing.

Children in nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 have begun returning to primary school in England, and some Year 10 and 12 pupils returned to secondary school and college this week.

But all pupils are not due to return to school until at least September after the Government was forced to abandon plans to get all primary school children back in class before the summer break.

Controversy is also brewing about exam results after the i newspaper reported that millions of GCSE and A-level grades are due to be marked down because of “generous” predictions made by teachers as a result of exams being scrapped during the pandemic.

In Northern Ireland, most pupils are set for a return to full-time education in the autumn after ministers agreed to cut the social distancing measure to one-metre.

But Health Secretary Matt Hancock, speaking at the daily Downing Street briefing, said the same would not happen in England until the virus was “under control”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock at Thursday’s daily Downing Street briefing Credit: PA

The Government on Thursday was forced into an embarrassing U-turn over its tracing app, announcing that it was ditching ambitions to develop its own software and instead will work with tech giants Apple and Google on a new, improved design.

The Government will work with Google and Apple to come up with a coronavirus tracking app, having abandoned plans for an in-house version Credit: PA

Mr Hancock told the daily briefing that developers had been working on both the app created by the NHS’s digital arm, NHSX, and the design offered by Apple and Google since May, but the NHSX app had hit a “technical barrier” during testing on the Isle of Wight.

Having previously promised the tracing app would be rolled out in mid-May, Mr Hancock refused to put a date on when the new software would be ready.

Officials, at an earlier briefing, said they hoped an app will be ready by the autumn-winter flu season, a crucial point when many could exhibit coronavirus-like symptoms even if they do not have the disease.

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