POLITICS
02/06/2021 18:44 BST | Updated 02/06/2021 18:46 BST

Schools Catch-Up Tsar Quits Saying Gavin Williamson 'Failing' Children

Kevan Collins says £1.4bn announced by government “does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge” in wake of Covid.

Kevan Collins
Kevan Collins

Education catch-up tsar Kevan Collins has dramatically quit his post and warned Gavin Williamson his £1.4bn catch-up fund is “failing” children who lost learning during lockdown. 

Collins, appointed to advise government just four months ago, said the deal announced by the education secretary on Wednesday “does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge”.

The former headteacher had called for some £15bn of funding and 100 extra hours of teaching per pupil. 

But Williamson – whose new fund represents just a tenth of Collins’ demand – is said to have lost a battle for more cash in talks with Rishi Sunak’s Treasury. 

Collins said in a statement the sum on offer “betrays an undervaluation of the importance of education”, adding: “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.”

He added that the package of support “falls far short of what is needed” as he warned that 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,” Collins said.

Ministers say the total fund for lost learning is £3bn and the new money will support 100 million hours of extra tutoring for youngsters who lost out during the pandemic.

The settlement has been roundly rejected branded “paltry” and  “disappointing” by unions and school leaders. 

Williamson sidestepped questions on Wednesday about a clash with the Treasury, but did admit that “there will be more that is required”.

Prime minister Boris Johnson promised that there would be “more coming through” to support children in England who had missed lessons during the pandemic following criticism from education leaders.

WPA Pool via Getty Images
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson 

A No 10 spokesperson 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.”

The education recovery tsar had recommended that schools and colleges should be funded for a flexible extension to school time – the equivalent to 30 minutes extra every day.  

But the DfE’s announcement did not include plans to lengthen the school day.

Collins said: “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 DfE’s programme includes £1bn to support up to six million, 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged pupils, as well as an expansion of the 16-19 tuition fund which will target subjects such as maths and English.

A further £400 million will go towards providing high-quality training for early years practitioners and school teachers to ensure children progress.

But the announcement, made during half-term, does not include plans to lengthen the school day or shorten the summer break.

Collins, the former chief executive of the Education Endowment Fund (EEF), has more than 30 years of experience working in the education sector. 

He was appointed in February to advise government on how to help children recover months of lost learning during lockdown.