Leeds education leader admits he gets "disheartened" over government failure to tackle widening inequalities for city's young people

Leeds' education leader has set out his wishlist for government catch up funding in schools amid fears it "will barely touch the sides" of the city's growing inequality gap.

Wednesday, 9th June 2021, 4:45 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th June 2021, 11:12 am

Coun Jonathan Pryor branded the government's £1.4bn allocation to help pupils catch up following more than a year or home-schooling, remote learning and collapsed class bubbles as "baffling".

It equates to £50 per pupil in England and is much lower than equivalent funding in America, which is £1600 per pupil, and the Netherlands, which is £2500 per head, for example.

The councillor, who is also deputy leader of Leeds City Council and executive member for 'Economy, Culture and Education', warned that unless the government performs another pandemic u-turn, Leeds will feel the after effects for decades and generations.

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Coun Jonathan Pryor, deputy leader and council spokesperson for economy, culture and education.
Coun Jonathan Pryor, deputy leader and council spokesperson for economy, culture and education.

He told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "Even before COVID there was a huge gap between disadvantaged pupils and those who were better off. Some of that is kids who have educational, care and health needs plans and some is kids in poor quality housing, have parents working two jobs and don't have the same opportunities to help them all the time.

"What we have seen over the pandemic is existing problems getting bigger and that gap getting wider. When you look at the catch up money, it is baffling how little value the government is giving to this catch up fund. Unless they u-turn on this, and the government likes a u-turn, we will see problems for generations."

The catch up plans are yet to be revealed in more depth, but education aside, it is predicted that extra curricular activities such as arts, sports and culture will have to be cut by schools and providers to make up this money.

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He said: "What the government is offering will barely touch the sides. There is a real danger it will be cultural things that drop off - art, sport, music. We have seen in Leeds that they have a huge impact, not only on mental health and targeted attainment, but it will be just richer kids that do these things and poorer kids will get left behind again. There could be some great budding doctors or researchers but these kids won't get that same opportunity as others.

"We are talking increasingly about the long term effects of COVID, not just on health but society. Unless the government fixes it, the negative effects are certainly going to be for decades and generations."

In his wishlist for Leeds, Coun Pryor set out four key points that he would like to see addressed.

They are the continuation of free school meals for eligible children throughout the school holidays, mental health support across the board regardless of circumstance, targeted academic support and the provision of activities.

He explained: "On a basic level, hungry children are not going to learn and we need to fix that first. Mental health support is needed across the board. Children dealt with the pandemic differently depending upon whether they had siblings, what their housing situation was and that support needs to be there. We also need targeted support for students who fall behind and that is not getting teachers to do more, we need more staff because we need activities for all pupils across art, sport and music.

"Part of growing up is having fun and we need to make sure these are there for all pupils regardless of background."

However, Coun Pryor says he feels dis-heartened that as a politician, this is not happening for education Leeds.

He added: "As a local politician, I speak to schools, pupils, teachers, young people and families. We see what they need and we see the government not delivering, and not only not delivering but not even coming close. It is disheartening."