Government under fire over funding shortfall for schools recovery plan

Government searches for ways to catch up pupils without spending required cash

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 02 June 2021 12:51 BST
<p>Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has refused to fund the £15 billion plan</p>

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has refused to fund the £15 billion plan

The Education Secretary has defended the government’s Covid catch-up plans for schools amid criticism from headteachers that it is not properly funded.

Ministers want pupils to catch up on lessons missed due to Covid-19, which has widened the pupil attainment gap and seen some students fall behind.

A catch-up plan unveiled on Wednesday promised tuition and more training for teachers, but both headteachers and the governments' Education Recovery Commissioner say the cash provided by the Treasury is not sufficient.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is understood to have withheld the recommended £15 billion to fund the scheme and given just £1.4 billion – leaving ministers searching for other options.

Asked about the funding shortfall on Wednesday morning, Gavin Williamson said: "It is quite unprecedented to be getting this quantum of money outside of a spending review.

"But what we decided we needed to do was deliver interventions and support and invest in children immediately - that's why we've... over the last few months announced a total of over £3 billion in terms of targeted help for children."

But he added: "I have no doubt that in order to deliver everything we have ambitions for, for our children, there will be more that is required."

Pressed on whether he had asked for more money, Mr Williamson also told LBC radio: "It is incredibly tempting to get involved in divulging to you private conversations with the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, but I'm going to possibly sidestep this one, if that's OK?"

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), described the government's approach to funding as "pretty dispiriting" and "pitiful".

"Today's announcement essentially equates to £50 per head, you compare that with the USA which is putting £1,600 per head, per young person, or the Netherlands, £2,500 per head," he said.

"So what is it about those children in the Netherlands or the USA that makes them worth more than our Government seems to say?

"It's time to stop the rhetoric I think and start the action on behalf of children and young people."

The government's own education recovery commissioner Sir Kevan Collins said overnight that while “the investments in teaching quality and tutoring announced today offer evidence-based support to a significant number of our children and teachers", he was of the view that "more will be needed to meet the scale of the challenge".

Under the government's plan 6 million, 15-hour tutoring courses would be offered to disadvantaged pupils over the next three years, while 500,000 teachers will be given “world class training”.

But earlier leaks suggest the funding required for the full proposals would amount to £15 billion – while the Treasury has only released £1.4 billion in new funding, following an earlier injection of £1.7 billion.

Labour's shadow education secretary Kate Green told Sky News that the government’s approach “badly lets down our children and young people”.

"It's going to bring in some extra tutoring, it's going to bring in some training for teachers. But we know that parents say that the most worrying concern that they have following the pandemic is their children's emotional wellbeing, their ability to socialise with other children and their mental wellbeing,” she said.

"So it's a very limited announcement, I'm afraid, that the Government is making and children and young people can't really afford to wait for this Government to get a sensible package that will properly address children's educational recovery and their wellbeing."

This article was amended on the day of publication. It originally said that school lunch breaks could be cut by half an hour, however the DfE have told us that Mr Williamson in fact intended to imply that the government could consider enforcing a one-hour lunch break in schools.

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