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Reaction: Post-lockdown, after-school clubs will be more important than ever

The eye of the storm appears to have passed, at least for now. With the vaccination programme making continued progress, allowing Britain to creep out of lockdown, attention now turns to assessing the long-term consequences of the “stay-at-home” order.

It is clear the impact of the pandemic has been felt by all. Following an astonishing shutdown of economic activity, the past year has witnessed a dramatic rise in unemployment and a wave of Covid-related bankruptcies. Experts also fear the mental health impact will be profound and far-reaching.

It is the younger generations who are particularly at risk of long-lasting scars, however. Following the closure of schools, the average pupil missed almost half a year of in-person teaching. This has had real term consequences. One study published in February found England’s primary school pupils have fallen two to three months behind in literacy and numeracy skills. For children in the North of England and the West Midlands, learning loss is expected to be even more severe.

It is anticipated school closures will haunt our youngest for years to come. Without targeted remedial action, an individual student’s earnings will be hampered by up to £40,000 throughout their lifetime, resulting in a detrimental effect on future levels of social mobility.

At present, the government appears to be taking a three-pronged approach to tackling the issue, unveiling its plans to boost the “three Ts” of time, teaching and tutoring.

The first is time. To allow children the chance to catch up after months of disruption, the school day may be extended by half an hour as part of a £1.4bn Covid recovery package. This would amount to an extra 100 hours of schooling each year.

An overwhelming majority of teachers – 98% – say they are opposed to the plan, claiming pupils may be left exhausted and burnt out. Yet others such as the Education Endowment Foundation argue the policy could help pupils make an additional two months of progress each year, with disadvantaged pupils benefiting from closer to three months’ progress. Perhaps the solution is to fund pilot projects to best understand the impact longer school days could have.

The government’s second area of focus is on teaching. In short, Westminster has laid out plans to provide an extra £250m for teacher training and development, seeking to equip teachers with the necessary skills and tools to meet the challenge of the catch-up programme.

The third arm of the government’s plan is to fund 100 million extra tutoring hours for England’s most disadvantaged children. Investment in tutoring is greatly welcomed, heralded as a cost-effective method of making up for lost learning.

Nevertheless, questions abound if the government is going far enough.

Earlier this month the Education Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, resigned over the school catch-up plan, claiming “the support announced by government so far does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge”. Following sustained interrogation at last week’s PMQs, it appears Boris Johnson might agree, conceding the sum committed so far is “just the start”.

However, to avoid doing our young people a disservice, we must look beyond short-term government cash injections into the education sector. Instead, we need to prioritise long-term, holistic support to allow “Generation Covid” the chance to recover. This would take the form of private sector and charitable investment into extra-curricular clubs and activities.

The importance of after-school clubs cannot be overstated. They provide safe havens for vulnerable young people, playing a crucial role in helping them successfully transition to adulthood. They do this by providing opportunities to develop skills and interests, whilst giving youngsters respite from the stresses of their often difficult and complex lives.

Yet in the last decade, youth services have suffered a 70% funding cut. In some parts of the country, the picture is even worse, with funding for youth services reduced to zero in areas such as Trafford, Medway, Luton and Slough. Additionally, under the recent lockdown restrictions, most after-school clubs have been forced to shut their doors, meaning young people have gone without for long periods of time.

This is the impetus for my foundation devoting its resources to the reinvigoration of out-of-school clubs. One project we have been supporting is the reconstruction of the Waterside Centre in Newbury, led by the Berkshire Youth Trust. Set to open in the summer, the Waterside Centre will be the first in a series of “Inspired Facilities” that will provide a range of activities including sport, music, vocational training and counselling.

Another out-of-school club my foundation is supporting is Boxwise. Launched only very recently, this non-profit social enterprise works with accredited England Boxing coaches to provide a structure through which young people can learn to channel their energy and harness their potential.

Only by supporting after-school clubs, such as the Waterside Centre and Boxwise, can Britain’s most vulnerable young people have more opportunities to flourish.

It is clear philanthropy can play a much larger role in furthering the Covid recovery. As lockdown continues to lift, young people are excited to return to both the classroom and to out-of-school clubs. Let us match their energy with the support and resources they need to thrive.


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