Education catch-up tsar Sir Kevan Collins resigns in major blow to Boris Johnson

‘A half-hearted approach risks failing hundreds of thousands of pupils,’ former government adviser says

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 02 June 2021 19:42
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Today's daily politics briefing

Boris Johnson has been dealt a major blow as the schools’ coronavirus catch-up tsar quit his post in protest at a funding package he described as falling “far short of what is needed” to aid the pandemic recovery.

Sir Kevan Collins’ resignation follows the government’s announcement of a £1.4bn package aimed at alleviating the impact of the crisis on children’s learning, but the funding – amounting to £50 per pupil – was denounced by school leaders as “pitiful”.

Shortly after education secretary Gavin Williamson unveiled the plans, Sir Kevan, who was reported to have called for £15bn worth of funding and 100 extra hours of teaching per pupil, was said to be on the brink of quitting.

On Wednesday evening, the education recovery commissioner, who was tasked four months ago to “ensure children and young people can recover lost learning” caused by the Covid crisis, announced he had left the role.

Denouncing the government’s plans in a withering statement, Sir Kevan insisted: “A half-hearted approach risks failing hundreds of thousands of pupils”.

“The support announced by the 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,” Sir Kevan said.

In a separate resignation letter published by the TES, Sir Kevan, who met with the prime minister last week, added: “I told you that I do not believe it will be possible to deliver a successful recovery without significantly greater support than the government has, to date, indicated it intends to provide.”

Earlier, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) said the funding amounted to a “fraction” of what was required and estimated the level of funding needed to reverse learning losses due to the Covid-19 crisis was £500 per student a year.

In response to Sir Kevan’s resignation, Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of Schools and College Leaders, said he was “not surprised” by the decision, suggesting the government’s package “clearly falls a long way short of what he had in mind”.

“We know that Sir Kevan had much bolder and broader plans but that these required substantially more investment than the government was willing to provide. He’s tried his hardest on behalf of children and young people, but, in the final analysis, the political will just wasn’t there to support him,” he added.

“Sir Kevan has huge credibility across the teaching profession and across government. We hope that this episode will focus the mind of ministers on the need to match their recovery rhetoric with action.

“Certainly, we will not let this matter rest and will continue to press for a more substantial and ambitious recovery package from the government. It is what our children need and deserve.”

Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, said the decision was a “damning indictment of the Conservatives’ education catch-up plan”.

“He was brought in by Boris Johnson because of his experience and expertise in education, but the government has thrown out his ideas as soon as it came to stumping up the money needed to deliver them,” she insisted.

The chief executive of the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, said it was clear Sir Kevan’s “ambitious aspirations for a genuine recovery plan” had been “jettisoned in favour of a cost-saving sticking plaster”.

He added: “To protect others, our children stayed home, away from school, family and friends. They deserve to have this sacrifice repaid in full, not by a token gesture.

“We sincerely hope that today’s announced funding is just the start of a full recovery plan for children, but Sir Kevan’s resignation is a very worrying sign that the government will fall grossly short of what children desperately need.”

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 £3 billion committed for catch up so far.”

Speaking from Downing Street earlier on Wednesday, Mr Johnson added that there would be “more coming through” to support children in England amid intense criticism from education leaders, unions and opposition MPs.

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