Schools Minister Robin Walker says education needs to return to 'normal' on visit to County Durham

By James Robinson

The Government's Schools Minister has said schools need to return to normal after the coronavirus crisis while on a visit to a County Durham primary school.

MP Robin Walker visited Burnopfield Primary School on Thursday to see the Government's flagship National Tutoring Programme in action.

The school is one of 20 in the area to make use of the programme, which is aimed at helping pupils catch up on learning lost during the coronavirus pandemic.

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It is part of the £3 billion education recovery programme, and gave schools the funding and autonomy to deliver catch-up learning to children using their own staff and local resources, rather than through third parties.

Burnopfield Primary has employed an academic mentor, Katie Vickers, who studied at Newcastle University. She has been with the school since February.

Mr Walker was keen to stress that schools need to get back to normal following the impact of coronavirus on education.

Burnopfield Primary School has taken advantage of the NTP (Craig Connor/ChronicleLive)

Mr Walker said: "Tutors like Katie working here with the children long term are I think some of the real success stories.

"If we have children in reception who aren't able to be in school, like they haven't due to Covid, there's a lot of catching up to do.

"We want the system to return to normality."

Mr Walker's visit came as the Department of Education faces calls from school leaders to scrap SATs exams due to perceived unfairness caused by the Covid-19 crisis

According to inews, headteachers at the National Association of Head Teachers union's conference this week called for the exams to be abandoned - but the minister explained why he felt the exams should go ahead.

"We are always working with teachers to minimise the workload.

"For children at primary school, we want to focus on a broad education, not just tests. It is important we have the evidence from SATs, but we also need to have the broad education."

The minister, who was only appointed to his post on September 16, is embarking on a country-wide tour of the NTP to give schools and local leaders the opportunity to provide direct feedback on the scheme.

Mr Walker was also impressed with the set-up at Burnopfield Primary.

He continued: "This is a really impressive school and it has been a lovely visit. Visiting schools is one of my favourite things to do.

Mr Walker was impressed with the school (Craig Connor/ChronicleLive)

"I think the NTP is a good start. It's been great to talk to the head and hear some of the ways we can improve it."

The school's academic mentor Katie was hired through the programme. She explained her role and what benefits it brought to the children.

She said: "I come in and do catch-up interventions for children who had slipped behind through online learning.

"I can see a massive difference, especially in younger years. One of the things I've noticed is through Covid is just them being able to sit on the carpet - they've missed out on a lot of development.

"I can't see there's ever going to be a point where the catch-up programme is not going to be needed - this really will be important forever. There's always kids that will need it.

Burnhopfield Primary School Academic Mentor Katie Vickers. (Craig Connor/ChronicleLive)

"It's one of those things that has come forward because of Covid, but people have realised how important it is.

"I absolutely love it. The school makes a massive difference, it's such a lovely school and it's been amazing."

According to the Department for Education, evidence suggests that pupils who receive one-to-one or small group tuition can make "between three and five months' additional progress."

Burnopfield's headteacher, Rebecca Brunton, said the scheme had proved useful in helping youngsters who had fallen behind.

She said: "We have done our utmost throughout the pandemic to ensure that our pupils’ education is impacted as little as possible by the move to online learning but as with young people across the country, it has brought additional challenges for them.

“The National Tutoring Programme is proving really helpful in allowing us to help and support a range of children across the school, through the recruitment of an academic mentor and by allowing our teaching staff more time to carry out high quality interventions with identified pupils in small groups.

“It was a real privilege to be chosen for the visit of Robin Walker and everyone associated with Burnopfield Primary was delighted to welcome him to our school."

The NTP is now in its second year, and the Government plans to deliver 6 million 15 hour tutoring packages in total over the full three years of the scheme.

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