The government’s education recovery commissioner Sir Kevan Collins has offered his resignation after ministers allocated just £1.4 billion in funding for the next phase of their catch-up plan, it has been reported.
In his resignation letter to prime minister Boris Johnson, published by Tes, Collins warned he did not believe it was “credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size”.
I am concerned that the apparent savings offered by an incremental approach to recovery represent a false economy
The Times has also reported that Collins said he had “no option” but to resign following today’s announcement, and accused ministers of taking a “half-hearted approach”.
Appointed in February to advise on proposals to help pupils recover education missed during the Covid-19 pandemic, Collins was reported to have called for spending in the region of £15 billion, with initiatives such as extending the school day on the cards.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson announced initial spending of just £1.4 billion today, £1 billion of which is to be spent on tutoring. But the government only committed to a review of the time spent in school and college, with findings due “later in the year to inform the spending review”.
Collins’s response to the announcement today was lukewarm, with the former Education Endowment Foundation chief executive warning that “more will be needed” to meet the scale of the challenge.
In a statement, Collins confirmed he had recommended that schools be funded to extend school time “for a fixed, three-year period and providing significant funding for a flexible extension to school time, equivalent to 30 minutes extra every day”.
But the package of support announced “falls far short of what is needed. It is too narrow, too small and will be delivered too slowly”.
He also warned that “not enough is being done” to help vulnerable pupils, those in the early years or 16 to 19-year-olds.
“Above all, I am concerned that the package…betrays an undervaluation of the importance of education, for individuals and as a driver of a more prosperous and health society.”
‘We risk failing hundreds of thousands of pupils’
In his resignation letter, Collins warned that without a “comprehensive and urgent response” to the pandemic, “we risk failing hundreds of thousands of pupils”.
He also revealed that he told the prime minister last week that he did not believe it would be “possible to deliver a successful recovery without significantly greater support than the government has, to date, indicated it intends to provide”.
“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 said the package of measures announced today provided “valuable support”, but said he did not believe it was “credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size”.
“I hope that you are able to allocate the additional resources that are likely to be needed for a successful recovery through the spending review. I believe the settlement provided will define the international standing of England’s education system for years to come.”
Collins adviser says decision to ‘junk’ plan left him ‘no option’
Sir Alan Wood, a former president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, who was Collins’s chief adviser during his time in the role, said his colleague had presented a “comprehensive, fully costed and evidenced plan for a long term, school led recovery”.
This plan “provided substantial resources for schools and was comparable with those being implemented by other countries. The cost has been known for months,” he added.
“The decision to junk the plan and replace it with a minimal scheme of support for pupils and schools and a tutoring programme – half of the cost of which will have to be met by schools – left Kevan with no option other than to resign”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, said he was “sad but not surprised that Sir Kevan Collins is reported to be standing down as education recovery commissioner following the government’s announcement of a recovery package which clearly falls a long way short of what he had in mind”.
“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.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said the prime minister was “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.”
Williamson told BBC News today the government was looking at interventions they can “actually deliver today” rather than waiting for the spending review later this year.
Asked about pushing for extra cash, he told Sky News that “all the time you’re in discussions right across government” but the prime minister Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak are “committed” to taking actions needed.