School catch-up tsar lashes PM after quitting

‘Too narrow, too small and too slow’: School catch-up tsar lashes Boris Johnson after revealing he had ‘no option’ but to quit over Government’s ‘half-hearted approach’ to help pupils

  • Boris Johnson’s education recovery tsar Sir Kevan Collins last night said he had ‘no option’ but to quit 
  • Sir Kevan accused PM of taking a ‘half-hearted approach’ that risks failing thousands of children
  • He claimed Mr Johnson rejected proposals for a £15billion package to provide pupils with time and teaching  
  • Sir Kevan said ‘support announced by government does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge’
  • Labour said resignation was a ‘damning indictment’ of plan while Tory education chair said it was a ‘blow’

What schools recovery tsar Sir Kevan Collins wanted – and what No10 gave him instead 

Sir Kevan Collins’ recommendations – 

  • Extend the school day by 30 minutes;
  • Fund 100 hours extra teaching a year for sixth formers;
  • Widen the number of disadvantaged children eligible for childcare/early years education;
  • Fund a recovery premium that schools could choose how to distribute;
  • Increase pupil funding for early years and disadvantaged sixth formers;
  • Hire more highly qualified early years practitioners

What he actually got – 

  • An extra year of teaching for teenagers who fail their A-levels;
  • Extra funding for training teachers, including early years teachers; 
  • Extending tutoring to five million pupils by 2024 

Boris Johnson’s education recovery tsar last night said he had ‘no option’ but to quit as he accused the Prime Minister of taking a ‘half-hearted approach’ that risks failing hundreds of thousands of children.

Sir Kevan Collins claimed Mr Johnson rejected his proposals for a £15billion package to provide pupils with extra time and teaching to catch up on lost education due to successive lockdowns over the next three years.

Writing in the Times, he said the Government’s approach risked failing children and damaging Britain’s long-term economy after ministers revealed they would only guarantee a tenth of the funding he recommended.

‘The support announced by government so far does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge and is why I have no option but to resign,’ he wrote. 

‘It is too narrow, too small and will be delivered too slowly. A half-hearted approach risks failing hundreds of thousands of pupils.’

Labour said Sir Kevan’s resignation was a ‘damning indictment’ of the Government’s plan while Robert Halfon, Tory chair of the education select committee, said it was a ‘blow’ to lose someone of Sir Kevan’s stature. 

Sir Kevan had demanded ministers approve a £15billion package to help thousands of children whose learning has been interrupted by the pandemic get back on track. But Education Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday announced that only an initial £1.4billion would be pumped into the system.

His call for the school day to be extended by half an hour also looks to have been kicked into the long grass, with moved a ‘next stage’ review due to report only by the end of the year. 

In his resignation letter, first revealed by TES, Sir Kevan said the Government scheme was ‘too narrow, too small and will be delivered too slowly’. He also pointed out that the average primary school will directly receive just £6,000 per year – equivalent to £22 per child. 

‘A half-hearted approach risks failing hundreds of thousands of pupils,’ he said. ‘The support announced by Government so far does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge and is why I have no option but to resign from my post.’

The funding announcement sparked a furious backlash from across the political spectrum, The respected IFS think-tank pointed out that even with previously announced investment the government was spending £310 per pupil compared to £1,600 in the US. The Netherlands has allocated around £2,500 for each child. 


Sir Kevan Collins claimed Boris Johnson rejected his proposals for a £15billion package to provide pupils with extra time and teaching to catch up on lost education due to successive lockdowns over the next three years

The funding announcement sparked a furious backlash from across the political spectrum, The respected IFS think-tank pointed out that even with previously announced investment the government was spending £310 per pupil compared to £1,600 in the US. The Netherlands has allocated around £2,500 for each child

Teachers will also receive extra training and support worth £400million, bringing government spending to date on education recovery to more than £3billion. Stock picture

Steve Chalke, founded of the Oasis academy chain, was among those criticising the government plans

Boris Johnson faced pressure to pump more money into the schools Covid catch-up today as experts said other countries were being ‘much more ambitious’ than the UK.

Luke Sibieta, a research fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the government’s total package so far was worth around £3.1 billion.

‘A lot of that now is focused on the national tutoring programme, which (Sir) Kevan Collins talked about as being quite an important part of education recovery but it is clearly a lot less than the £10-15billion that Kevan Collins was proposing for a full-scale education recovery, which would incorporate much bigger elements.’

The education researcher said there was ‘value’ in staggering funding for schools and that the prospect of clawing back lost learning in the space of two years was ‘a bit fanciful’.

But he said education recovery commissioner Sir Kevan’s idea of longer school days had been ‘pushed into the long grass’ as the Government had failed to pilot the idea.

Comparing the UK Government’s outlay on school catch-up programmes internationally, he added: ‘The Biden administration in the US has proposed about £122 billion – about £1,600 per pupil, over five times more than we’re spending in the UK.

‘The Netherlands is going even further and has allocated over eight billion euros, which amounts to over £2,500 per pupil, so there are countries around the world going much further and being much more ambitious.’ 

The Prime Minister was forced to pledge that more money would be ‘coming through’ as he tried to fend off anger at the ‘pitiful’ funding.

Mr Johnson held out the prospect of a cash boost at a later stage, saying there was no doubt ‘many kids are incredibly resilient… but a lot of them also need help to catch up’.

He said the funding announcement should also ‘give parents the confidence that their child is going to get particular attention’, as well as ‘find potential in kids that may be missed in the back of the classroom’. But he suggested that there will need to be more investment in future. 

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said: ‘Kevan Collins’ resignation is a damning indictment of the Conservatives’ education catch-up plan. 

‘He was brought in by Boris Johnson because of his experience and expertise in education, but the Government have thrown out his ideas as soon as it came to stumping up the money needed to deliver them.

‘Labour has set out a plan to deliver the bold policies that will boost children’s recovery from the pandemic recognising that learning and wellbeing go hand-in-hand together.

‘Our children and their future ambitions and life chances depend on us getting this right. The Conservatives’ failure to deliver for children now could cost our country dearly long-term.’

The Tory chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon, said on Twitter: ‘To lose someone of the stature of Sir Kevan Collins is a real blow. 

‘Whilst today’s catch up money is hugely welcome, to repair damage of school closures, to improve attainment & outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, we need a properly resourced, radical long-term plan & funding.’

Children will be offered 100million hours of tutoring over the next three years to help them bounce back from the pandemic – but plans for a longer school day appear to have stalled.

Teachers will also receive extra training and support worth £400million, bringing government spending to date on education recovery to more than £3billion.

The Government has also announced that schools or colleges will be given funding to let Year 13 students repeat the year if they have been badly affected by the pandemic. However, a longer school day and a huge £15billion funding package were notably absent. 

A No 10 spokeswoman said: ‘The Prime Minister is hugely grateful to Sir Kevan for his work in helping pupils catch up and recover from the effects of the pandemic.

‘The government will continue to focus on education recovery and making sure no child is left behind with their learning, with over £3 billion committed for catch up so far.’

Earlier, Education Secretary Gavin Williams squirmed during interviews as he insisted he ‘absolutely’ trusts catch-up envoy Sir Kevan.    

In his resignation letter, first revealed by TES , Sir Kevan said the Government scheme was ‘too narrow, too small and will be delivered too slowly’

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that only an initial £1.4billion would be pumped into the system.

Sir Kevan’s resignation statement in full

‘Advising the Government on the education recovery plan has been the most important task of my professional life. The recovery approach we take will reveal our commitment to a generation of children. After the hardest of years, a comprehensive recovery plan – adequately funded and sustained over multiple years – would rebuild a stronger and fairer system.

‘A half-hearted approach risks failing hundreds of thousands of pupils. The support announced by Government so far does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge and is why I have no option but to resign from my post.

‘One conservative estimate puts the long-term economic cost of lost learning in England due to the pandemic at £100bn, with the average pupil having missed 115 days in school. In parts of the country where schools were closed for longer, such as the North, the impact of low skills on productivity is likely to be particularly severe. The pandemic has affected all pupils but hit disadvantaged children hardest. A decade’s progress to narrow the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is estimated to have been reversed.

‘As part of the plan I proposed to Government, I recommended a landmark investment in our teachers, whose dedication throughout the pandemic has been inspiring. It is also right to extend access to tutoring, in particular to support disadvantaged children. Tutoring can provide valuable support that complements classroom teaching. But it is not a panacea and must be high-quality to make a difference.

‘This is one reason why I recommended schools and colleges be funded to extend school time for a fixed, three-year period and providing significant funding for a flexible extension to school time, equivalent to 30 minutes extra every day. From the perspective of teachers, extra time would have been optional and paid, with schools also able to use the time to offer enrichment activities that children have missed out on.

‘The package of support announced yesterday falls far short of what is needed. It is too narrow, too small and will be delivered too slowly. The average primary school will directly receive just £6,000 per year, equivalent to £22 per child. Not enough is being done to help vulnerable pupils, children in the early years or 16- to 19-year-olds. Above all, I am concerned that the package announced yesterday betrays an undervaluation of the importance of education, for individuals and as a driver of a more prosperous and healthy society.’ 

In a bruising round of interviews yesterday, Mr Williamson tried to put a brave face on the situation saying that ‘as a Yorkshireman’ he ‘always thought that £1.4billion was a pretty hefty amount’. But he refused to say how much that worked out for each child.

Pushed repeatedly on whether he believed in what Sir Kevan was proposing, Mr Williamson told Sky News: ‘We have been working very closely with Sir Kevan Collins and actually the interventions around tutoring, driving up teaching quality, these are very much built on the work we’ve been doing together, recognising how incredibly important it is that we take on these interventions in order to help children.’ 

He insisted a longer school day is still ‘on the agenda’. 

Amid reports that the Treasury had baulked at the huge figure, Mr Williamson confirmed a ‘further instalment’ of just £1.4billion.

Meanwhile, the question of whether the school day should be extended remains under review and ‘will be set out later in the year’, the Department for Education said. 

Mr Williamson said: ‘It is a lot of money and it builds on £1.7billion that we’ve already committed in terms of actually delivering for children – it is an extra £100million hours of tutoring.

‘It is making sure that children who need that help, who need that support, that we’re delivering that tutoring revolution to help them get it.

‘But we recognise it is part of a process. Over the past 12 months, we have already announced a previous £1.7billion worth of additional funding and we are looking at a whole raft of additional ideas for how we can continue to support our children, making sure none of them are left behind.’

Hailing the extra funding, Boris Johnson said it would ‘make sure that no child is left behind’. 

‘This next step in our long-term catch-up plan should give parents confidence that we will do everything we can to support children who have fallen behind and that every child will have the skills and knowledge they need to fulfil their potential,’ he said. 

Sir Kevan added: ‘The investments in teaching quality and tutoring announced today offer evidence-based support to a significant number of our children and teachers.’ However, he pointedly warned that ‘more will be needed to meet the scale of the challenge’.

Unions reacted angrily to the announcement, saying the package did not go far enough. 

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: ‘It’s a damp squib – some focus in a couple of the right areas is simply not enough. 

‘The funding announced to back these plans is paltry… education recovery cannot be done on the cheap.’  

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), told Sky News: ‘It’s pretty dispiriting, here I am as somebody who is leading a trade union, and for all my colleagues it feels this morning as if we have got higher ambitions for the nation’s children and young people than the Education Secretary.

‘It’s pretty pitiful, only yesterday we were hearing stories about extending the school day and even if some people disagreed with it, at least there was a sense of ‘let’s do something radical, let’s do something different’.

‘Today’s announcement essentially equates to £50 per head, you compare that with the USA which is putting £1,600 per head, per young person, or the Netherlands, £2,500 per head.

‘So what is it about those children in the Netherlands or the USA that makes them worth more than our Government seems to say?

‘It’s time to stop the rhetoric I think and start the action on behalf of children and young people.’

Mr Williamson suggested that further funding will be forthcoming in future. 

However, a longer school day and a huge £15billion funding package, which were key demands made in a document penned by the education recovery tsar Sir Kevan Collins were notably absent. Stock picture

Labour education spokesman Kate Green accused the Tories of ‘showing no ambition for children’s futures’ as she unveiled alternative measures which would cost £14.7billion. 

As well as expanding extracurricular activities and breakfast clubs, mental health support should be available in every school, as well as small group tutoring and teacher development, she said. 

Sir Peter Lampl, of education charity Sutton Trust, said the ‘funding is only a fraction of what is required. Low-income students who have already been most heavily impacted will be disadvantaged even more and overall standards, which have fallen dramatically, will be very slow to recover’.

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