As I have mentioned both today and yesterday, we know that Covid is having a negative impact on the attainment gap and is affecting the learning of all children and young people. That is why, as part of our pandemic response, we have invested significantly in teachers and support staff as well as in measures to extend digital inclusion and improve remote learning. We also continue to target additional support at those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the draft budget for next year, more than £127 million in pupil equity funding will go towards supporting them, and a further £30 million is being invested to support schools to cope with the on-going effects of Covid.
Covid will have both an immediate and a long-term impact on education, so we will always be looking for opportunities to do more to support the learning of children and young people. Ultimately, that is why we are so determined to give priority to the return of schools and why I was pleased to announce the start of a phased, albeit very gradual, return to full-time schooling later this month.
In recent years, much progress has been made in raising attainment, particularly among pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. That progress has inevitably been undermined by necessary restrictions that have been undertaken in response to the pandemic. The income lost to an individual over a lifetime could run into tens of thousands of pounds.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has suggested that the large-scale use of tuition in the summer holidays and extended hours could partially make up for lost classroom time. Will the Scottish Government explore all feasible options for ensuring that our pupils can catch up on their lost education, so that, by the time they leave school, any educational disadvantage suffered due to the pandemic is minimised?
Yes, we absolutely will. We are doing and will continue to do everything that we can to ensure that the impact on children’s education is minimised, and we will consider taking action beyond that which is being taken right now.
As I said a moment ago, since the start of the pandemic, we have funded the recruitment of 1,400 extra teachers and more than 200 support staff—that will be helping already. We have already invested to address digital exclusion, and, as I also said a moment ago, we have announced a further £45 million to be used flexibly by local authorities for digital devices, internet connectivity, staffing, family support or whatever they think is most appropriate and necessary. The draft budget will also involve money being invested to mitigate the impacts of Covid on learning, particularly for groups from more disadvantaged backgrounds.