Education recovery funding met with dismay as Collins quits

The government’s latest proposals for education catch-up have met with near universal disappointment from across the sector, with the education recovery commissioner Sir Kevan Collins offering his resignation in response to the plans. The build-up to the announcement of the plans had seen speculation that they would include measures such as extending the school day or shortening the summer holidays. However, in the event the main plank of the proposals was further additional money for catch-up tutoring together with funding to train early years staff, including new programmes focused on speech and language. There will also be further funding to enable teachers to access training whatever point they are at in their career, and schools and colleges will be funded to give some pupils the option to repeat year 13. On extending the school day, the Department for Education (DfE) merely says that the time spent in school or college will be reviewed, with the findings set out later in the year.

The proposals will be funded to the tune of around £1.4 million, and much criticism focused on this amount being inadequate. In a statement following his resignation, Sir Kevan Collins said ‘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.’ That criticism was echoed by union leaders, such as the NAHT’s general secretary Paul Whiteman who commented ‘The funding announced to back these plans is paltry compared to the amounts other countries have invested, or even compared to government spending on business recovery measures during the pandemic. Education recovery cannot be done on the cheap.’ Meanwhile Deborah Lawson, assistant general secretary of Community Union (Voice Community education and early years section), said: ‘The expansion of tutoring and the funding are welcome, as is the emphasis on the early years. However, we appear to have lost the opportunity for a once-in-a generation chance to overhaul education and early years. The plans are severely compromised, lack ambition and obviously the backing of the Treasury, which appears oblivious to the role of education and the early years to economic recovery.’

Some commentators drew comparisons between the amount on offer in the DfE proposals, and the level of funding being provided for education catch-up in other countries. The Education Policy Institute (EPI) provided an analysis that, even factoring in education recovery funding prior to the latest announcement, the total level of funding committed for England over three years is £310 per pupil. This compares to equivalent total funding of £1,600 per pupil in the US, and £2,500 per pupil in the Netherlands. Jon Andrews, head of analysis at the EPI said the DfE’s proposals were ‘an inadequate response to the challenge the country is facing with young people’s education, wellbeing, and mental health.’ Elsewhere, Sir Peter Lampl, executive chair of the Sutton Trust, welcomed the proposals on offer but again focused on the issue of overall funding. He said ‘Creating an ambitious, sustainable recovery plan to support every pupil is a considerable challenge. The extension of tutoring for the most disadvantaged young people is crucial as it’s a highly cost-effective method of making up for lost learning. The focus on quality teaching, investing in the teaching profession and early years practitioners is also much needed. However, the proposed funding is only a fraction of what is required. Low-income students who have already been most heavily impacted by Covid-19 will be disadvantaged even more and overall standards, which have fallen dramatically, will be very slow to recover.’

Announcing the DfE’s proposals, education secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘This is the third major package of catch-up funding in twelve months and demonstrates that we are taking a long-term, evidence-based approach to help children of all ages. I am incredibly proud it recognises the efforts and dedication of our teachers who are at the forefront of children’s recovery – making sure every teacher has the opportunity to access world-leading training, giving them the skills and tools to help every child they work with to fulfil their potential.’

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