Levelling Up: Boris Johnson's success may hinge on how well schools bounce back from lockdown...writes Peter Bearne

OK, class, hands up who can remember any of the political parties' education policies going into the last election?

No worries if you can't. I had to look them up myself. 

It's fair to say it wasn't his plans for schools which catapulted Boris Johnson into Number Ten. But just nine months on, our children's education and his government's grip on it is absolutely under the public spotlight. COVID has changed everything.

Our ITV News/Comres survey reveals that there are very real anxieties in the Midlands about the damage caused by school closures - be it a worsening in education standards or the long-term impact on children's prospects. 

And the experts are agreed - it's those more deprived areas such as the "red wall" seats in the Midlands where the most damage may have been done.

"Levelling up" the country may be Johnson's specialised subject, but in education, he may struggle to score top marks. New research by the Education Policy Institute shows disadvantaged children are eighteen months behind their peers with their learning by the time they finish their GCSEs. And that was before coronavirus.

Talking to parents and grandparents in north Nottinghamshire and the Black Country, I found a genuine concern about how far their children could have fallen behind in the last five months. But most also felt the current government had done its best in a challenging situation - and crucially would still trust Johnson with their vote. 

True, the Department of Education has dished out thousands of free laptops to help poorer pupils in lockdown, and schools have had a billion pounds to help students catch up. But there's also been a succession of policy U-turns and the chaos of exam results, stretching the patience of pupils and teachers to the limit.

Boris Johnson's ability to retain support in those "red wall" constituencies may hinge on how well schools and children now bounce back from lockdown. Before the pandemic, the Government had already pledged an extra £7 billion to schools over the next three years. The challenge is to translate that cash injection into a real improvement in young people's prospects.

At the next election that could be key to whether the Midlands keeps Johnson as Head Boy or decides to teach him a lesson. 

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