UK education 'catch-up' chief quits over cutbacks to £15bn rescue plan

Sir Kevan Collins says level of funding available to schools is not credible

Sir Kevan Collins left his position as UK 'catch-up' tsar after the Treasury watered down his funding proposals. Alamy
Sir Kevan Collins left his position as UK 'catch-up' tsar after the Treasury watered down his funding proposals. Alamy

The UK government's plan to help the nation's schoolchildren catch up on hours of lost learning during the coronavirus pandemic was dealt a blow on Monday when its architect quit.

"Catch-up" chief Sir Kevan Collins's departure came after the Treasury cut his proposed £15 billion ($21.3bn) schools recovery package by more than 90 per cent.

He said the £1.4bn announced on Monday for the "national tutoring revolution" was not credible.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said more funding would be made available later but this failed to placate Mr Collins, as he made clear in his resignation letter, seen by the Times Educational Supplement.

“I am concerned that the apparent savings offered by an incremental approach to recovery represent a false economy, as learning losses that are not addressed quickly are likely to compound," he wrote.

“I believe our approach to recovery should also offer opportunities for children to re-engage with sport, music and the rich range of activities that define a great education.

“I proposed extending school time as a way to provide this breadth, as well as to ensure that additional academic support does not cause existing enrichment activities to be squeezed out.

“I do not believe it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieve with a programme of support of this size.”

The money that was made available will support 6 million 15-hour tutoring courses for the most disadvantaged pupils and more tuition in key subjects for those aged between 16 and 19, the Department for Education said.

Another £400 million is for training teachers and early years staff.

The decision to cut Mr Collins's funding proposals came from Treasury, so blame cannot be solely placed on under-fire Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

But after embarrassing mishaps under his leadership, including the exams results fiasco last year, Mr Williamson's position will come under further scrutiny.

Mr Collins was not the only dissenting voice on Wednesday. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT teaching union, called the funding "paltry".

"Education recovery cannot be done on the cheap,” Mr Whiteman said.

The next stage of the “education recovery plan” will include a review of time spent in school and college, to be reported later this year.

The Times reported on Tuesday that the school day could be extended by half an hour from 2022, under plans drawn up by Mr Collins.

Schools in England reopened in March after being closed for two months during the third national coronavirus lockdown.

Restrictions meant most pupils only had one full term of lessons in the classroom since the coronavirus hit the UK early last year.

The latest funding follows a pledge to help schools provide more clubs and activities over the summer holidays, and a promised boost in mental health support.

Updated: June 2, 2021 11:26 PM

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