Education catch-up commissioner quits over 'inadequate' Covid funding for schools

Departure comes after government unveils funding package around one-tenth of recommended amount
Photo: PA

The government’s education recovery commissioner has resigned over the decision to provide just a fraction of the funding he said was required to help children catch up with missed schooling during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sir Kevan Collins was named as the Department for Education’s education recovery commissioner in February, with a brief to “work with government to deliver measures that will support children who have missed out on face-to-face education due to extended school closures”.

However, following the announcement of a £1.4bn package for school catch up support yesterday, Collins announced his departure, saying that the funding "falls far short of what is needed".

It is reported that Collins advised ministers that around £15bn in extra funding was needed to support pupil catch-up as a result of teaching missed during the pandemic.

The government's proposal represents £50 per pupil per year. Sir Kevan wrote to the prime minister saying: "I do not believe it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size."

In his resignation statement, first reported by The TES, Collins said: "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."

Responding to his departure, a government spokesman 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 £3bn committed for catch up so far."

Trade unions also accused the government of proposing education recovery “on the cheap” after announcing  the £1.4bn in funding for post-Covid tutoring in schools.

The National Education Union’s joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said the government’s proposed funding package was “inadequate and incomplete”.

“Rarely has so much been promised and so little delivered,” Bousted said.

"The Treasury has shown, in this paltry offer, that it does not understand, nor does it appreciate, the essential foundation laid by education for the nation’s economic recovery.

“Its failure, on this scale, to fund what is needed for education recovery, is a scar which will take generations of children and young people to heal.  They, their parents and our nation deserve much better than this."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, described the funding announcement as “paltry” and a “damp squib”, accusing the government of trying to do education recovery “on the cheap”.

“After weeks of talking big and building expectations for education recovery, this announcement only confirms the government's lack of ambition for education,” he 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 compared to the amounts other countries have invested, or even compared to government spending on business recovery measures during the pandemic.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, suggested that there had been a battle over funding between the Treasury and the DfE which the former had won.

“This is a hugely disappointing announcement which lets down the nation’s children and schools at a time when the government needed to step up and demonstrate its commitment to education,” he said.

“The amount of money that the government plans to put into education recovery is insufficient and shows a failure to recognise the scale of learning loss experienced by many pupils during the pandemic – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Barton believed there had been a "battle behind the scenes" with the Treasury over how much funding was allocated, which had resulted in a fraction of the £15bn that was apparently being mooted.

“The announcement has then been snuck out in half term presumably with the hope that it won’t attract too much attention,” he said.

Last month, the Education Policy Institute also recommended that between £10bn-£15bn would be needed to reverse the effects of lockdown on pupils’ education.

“A final settlement which fails to meet this level would not only let down millions of young people, but could also spell serious consequences for the future economy,” Natalie Perera, chief executive of the EPI, said.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson defended the package on Wednesday, insisting that "targeted intervention around English and maths" could help catch up between three and five months of lost learning.

"This is part of a process, part of our plan," he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

"It's quite unprecedented to get this quantum of money outside the spending review.”

He explained that it was because of the recognition that the government needed to make "interventions and support and invest in children immediately".

But Williamson hinted that more money could be coming in the future, adding that the autumn spending review later this year would be an opportunity to "go further".

He dismissed claims that the funding was too small an amount. "Maybe this is being a Yorkshireman, but I always thought £1.4bn was a pretty hefty amount," Williamson said.

Around £1bn of the new fund will go towards boosting small group tutoring for children who have fallen behind, fed via the National Tutoring Programme and directly through schools.

The remaining £400m will be targeted at giving school teachers and early years staff more training and support.

Writing for The Telegraph, Williamson said: “This is a marathon, not a sprint. We must support pupils as they catch up on the learning that they have lost.”

“Tutoring is something that for a long time has been the preserve of the more affluent families – the thing that you did if you wanted to give your child additional help with something they were struggling with at school, or push them further to give them the edge in exams or with university applications.”

There are also plans to allow some Year 13 students the option to repeat a year.

However, proposals to shorten the summer holidays to allow for more teaching appear to have been scrapped.

"We wouldn't be looking at taking an amount of time away from holidays, but we have been looking at the structure of the school year,” Williamson told the BBC.

“At the moment that’s not something we’re progressing, but the key focus that we want to do is how the structure of the day best serves pupils."

Eleanor Langford is a  political reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. Richard Johnstone is the acting editor of CSW.

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