Ex-education catch-up chief denounces ‘feeble’ Government response

The former education catch-up commissioner for England has denounced the Government’s approach as “a bit feeble” and called for a “massive national effort” to address the problem.

Sir Kevan Collins said he felt he had been left with no choice but to resign after the amount ministers were prepared to invest fell so far short of what he believed was necessary.

Giving evidence to the Commons Education Committee, he confirmed the recovery package he put forward amounted to £15 billion while the Treasury had come forward with just £1.4 billion.

Sir Kevan Collins
Sir Kevan Collins called for a ‘massive national effort’ to help pupils catch up (House of Commons/PA)

“It was a very, very difficult decision. It wasn’t what I wanted to do,” said Sir Kevan, who was appointed by Boris Johnson to draw up an education recovery plan.

“I did consider all the options but the quantum was so different from the amount that I thought we needed to deliver the exam question I was asked that it was impossible for me not to step back at that point.”

Sir Kevan, who announced he was stepping down earlier this month, said he is now “very worried” about “complacency” and the belief children’s education would recover naturally.

“Our country has responded in a way which compared to some others is, frankly, a bit feeble. This scale of shock … requires a massive national effort to recover,” he said.

He said the amount of face-to-face teaching time that has been lost by children during the pandemic means they need much more than a “bit of tutoring in the corner” if they are to catch up again.

“That is why I was keen to see a whole school effort, around time, around teaching, around tutoring, and not a narrow kind of auxiliary attention to one particular activity that can get put to a teaching assistant,” he said.

Sir Kevan said he had wanted to be able to “hit the ground running” with his proposals when the new term started in September, but had been held back by the Government’s spending review cycle.

“The children can’t wait. I wanted to break out of the spending review cycle and actually do what we need to do in education in education time rather than in someone else’s time,” he said.

He said he was “very, very clear” the biggest impact of the pandemic would be on the most disadvantaged children unless the Government intervened to support them.

“Of course we have to do more. We cannot blight a generation of children by not investing in their education,” he said.

Asked about Sir Kevan’s comments, Downing Street said the £1.4 billion education recovery funding is a “significant sum of money”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “I think the public would accept that £1.4 billion is a significant sum of money and comes on top of an additional £1.7 billion.

“Since coming to office, the Prime Minister has committed an additional investment in education totalling over £17 billion.

“But, as has been said before, we will obviously keep the situation in our schools under review and consider what further steps may be necessary.”

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “The Conservatives have treated children as an afterthought throughout this pandemic and Kevan Collins is right to describe their plans as ‘feeble’.

“Parents and schools are crying out for help and they’re just not getting it.”