School leaders say government has ‘prioritised purse strings over nation’s children’

The government has pledged less than a tenth of the cash that the former schools catch-up tsar had requested.

School leaders have accused the government of failing to prioritise the nation’s children and of lacking ambition and vision to deal with the education crisis caused by the pandemic.

It comes after Boris Johnson’s education catch-up tsar, Sir Kevan Collins, resigned over a lack of funding and investment allocated by the government to help school pupils in what he described as a ‘half-hearted approach’ that risks ‘failing hundreds of thousands of pupils.’

Sir Collins is reported to have called for £15 billion worth of funding and 100 extra hours of teaching per pupil to help school children whose education has been thrown into chaos as a result of the pandemic.

The Department for Education has instead put a package of £1.4 billion towards catch-up plans, less than a tenth of what the former catch-up tsar had requested.

Sir Collins said in a statement: “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.”

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) told LFF that the government had ‘prioritised the purse strings’ rather than ‘education recovery.’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, said: “We are very sorry for Sir Kevan Collins who is a hugely admired and respected education expert and who has tried his hardest to land a recovery plan with the scale and ambition needed to support children’s learning in the wake of the pandemic. 

“Unfortunately, the government has failed to show the same sense of ambition for the nation’s children and has prioritised the purse strings ahead of education recovery which has clearly left Sir Kevan in an impossible position. 

“The package of measures that the government announced this week is too limited and narrow to address the extent of learning loss caused by the pandemic. We see that the Prime Minister has promised schools that there will be more money in the future for education recovery, and we will be holding him to his word.”

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) described Sir Collins’ resignation as a ‘truly awful day for the government’ and a ‘deeply disappointing one for all those working in schools’.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said: “There is little point in appointing an internationally-respected education expert as catch-up Tsar if you fail to listen to what they have to say. 

“The Treasury have refused to respond to the education crisis in the same way as they have the economic one. It is completely understandable why Sir Kevan chose not to become a pawn in whatever game the government is playing.”

The Sutton Trust, the U.K.’s leading social mobility charity said Sir Kevan had no choice but to walk away.

Sir Peter Lampl, our founder and executive chair said: “Sir Kevan Collins is a warrior for social justice. From his role as chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation he is steeped in understanding as to what works in education. 

“That means it’s even sadder that government has not implemented what he advised.  The stakes here are very high.  Namely the future prosperity and health of our children.

“Given the derisory amount the government is prepared to invest in catch-up, Sir Kevan had no choice but to walk away.”

A Number 10 spokesperson told LFF that the government would work to ensure no child is left behind.

They 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.”

Basit Mahmood is co-editor of Left Foot Forward

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