Two school students walking across a zebra crossing with their heads down

COVID catch-up: helping disadvantaged students close the equity gap

by Julie Sonnemann and Peter Goss


Australia should launch a $1 billion, six-month tutoring blitz to help 1 million disadvantaged school students recover learning lost during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Governments should send a battalion of 100,000 tutors into schools between now and Christmas to conduct intensive small-group sessions on reading and maths.

Many disadvantaged students – those from the poorest 25 per cent of families and rural areas – will have fallen further behind their classmates during the COVID-19 school closures.

Even where remote learning was working well for advantaged students, disadvantaged students are likely to have lost a month of learning on average during the six-to-nine weeks of school closures in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, and the ACT.

About 1 million disadvantaged students should attend tutoring sessions three-to-five times a week for up to three months, in groups of about three, either during regular school hours or before or after school.

Done well, these sessions could boost their learning by five months between now and the end of the year.

The tutors should be drawn from teachers and teacher aides who work part-time, but especially from young university graduates and pre-service teachers, who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 job and income losses.

Most tutors would work about eight hours a week. They could earn up to $6,300 over the six months.

The tutoring blitz would cost about $1 billion, but the benefits to the economy would be much larger. The young tutors would have extra income during the recession, and would be likely to spend it quickly, helping stimulate the economy between now and Christmas. And disadvantaged students who gained extra learning would earn more over their lifetime, boosting the economy in years to come.

Governments should also spend $70 million expanding successful literacy and numeracy programs, especially for students in the early years, and $30 million on trials of ‘targeted teaching’ and extra support for student well-being.

Schools, teachers, and students adapted remarkably well when the COVID-19 crisis forced them to switch almost overnight to remote learning. But most students did not learn as much while at home as they would have in their classroom – and disadvantaged students were hardest hit.

The tutoring blitz would be a win-win-win: the tutors would get extra income, the economy would get extra stimulus and, most importantly, Australia’s disadvantaged students would get the chance for a better life.

Grattan Institute would like to thank the Origin Energy Foundation for their generous and timely support of this project.

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