Recovery plan for pupils in England is ‘feeble’, former catch-up tsar says

The former education catch-up tsar has criticised the government’s recovery plan for pupils in England, calling it “feeble” and warning against what he described as a growing complacency that children will recover naturally from the impact of the pandemic.

Sir Kevan Collins, who resigned from his post last month, told MPs on the education select committee that a massive national effort was required to address the crisis in lost learning, not just “a bit of tutoring in the corner”.

He also said children in England, who have lost on average 115 days of face-to-face teaching during the pandemic, should not be made to wait for more funding to be made available as part of the government’s spending review in the autumn, as ministers have suggested.

“The money must get into schools as soon as possible,” said Collins.

“If we lose an academic year, I think that’s unacceptable. We know what the issue is, and we know the implications for our children. I couldn’t stand by and say there’s some kind of process you just have to wait for and hope you get the money in that process. If the argument is strong enough, why wouldn’t you do it now?”

Collins’s evidence to MPs on Tuesday exposed his frustration and the scale of the disagreement between the government and the man it tasked to “recover every child in this parliament”, with the Treasury’s unwillingness to fund a longer school day a significant stumbling block.

The former education recovery commissioner said he wanted 10,000 schools that have been operating a shorter school day to be asked to extend to the average of 6.5 hours with trials in other schools adding an extra 30 minutes to the day to allow for additional tutoring after school, rather than pulling children out of class, and offer extra enrichment activities including competitive sport, art and drama.

He confirmed that he had proposed a package of measures to the government that would have cost up to £15bn, and felt he had no choice but to resign when ministers came back with a £1.4bn package, which “just wasn’t enough to deliver the kind of recovery we need”, plus a review of the length of the school day, which will report later this year.

“We know our country responded in a way compared to some others which is quite frankly a bit feeble. The amount of money we are spending at the moment, these are significant sums, but this scale of shock … requires a massive national effort to recover,” said Collins. MPs were told that children in England were getting an estimated £310 in catch-up funding per pupil, compared with £2,100 for each pupil in the Netherlands.

The government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis in schools would “set the course for the English education system for the next 10 years,” Collins said, warning that unaddressed it would lead to growing inequality.

Asked about Collins’s evidence to the education committee, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “I think the public would accept that £1.4bn is a significant sum of money and comes on top of an additional £1.7bn.

“Since coming to office, the prime minister has committed an additional investment in education totalling over £17bn. But as has been said before, we will obviously keep the situation in our schools under review and consider what further steps may be necessary.”

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