Government education tsar resigns over funding for schools coronavirus catch-up plan

UK Editor Paul Brand has all the details on the row over funding to help children catch up on learning they've missed during the pandemic

The government's education recovery tsar, Sir Kevan Collins, has resigned.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, published by the Times Educational Supplement, Sir Kevan criticised the government for their limited funding of the schools coronavirus catch up scheme.

He said: "I do not believe it will be possible to deliver a successful recovery without significantly greater support than the Government has, to date, indicated it intends to provide."

The government pledged £1.4 billion for the scheme, which was ten times less than the £15 billion of funding Sir Kevan had advised.

ITV News UK Editor, Paul Brand, reported earlier Sir Kevan was unhappy about the level funding for the plan and believed he had let down students.

In a letter to the prime minister, Sir Kevan wrote: " 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."

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, who used to be the education minister, told ITV's Peston show teachers' unions are to blame for Sir Collins not getting his education recovery plan because they "resisted extending the school day in the first place".

In response, ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston reports the head of the National Education Union, Mary Bousted, said that is a "big, fat Tory lie".

She added that it was her understanding that it was the Treasury's refusal to provide adequate funds that led to Collins's decision to quit.

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Sir Kevan says a decade’s progress to narrow the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is estimated to have been reversed.

He had recommended a "landmark investment in our teachers, whose dedication throughout the pandemic has been inspiring" and remarked that it is right to extend access to tutoring, but "it is not a panacea".

Pupils wearing face masks during a lesson at Outwood Academy in Woodlands, Doncaster Credit: Danny Lawson/PA

He added: "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 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 betrays an undervaluation of the importance of education, for individuals and as a driver of a more prosperous and healthy society."

Sir Kevan Collins Credit: House of Commons/PA Wire/PA Images

Labour shadow education secretary Kate Green MP 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.”

A Number 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.”