UK education tsar quits in row over catch-up funding

Boris Johnson’s education recovery tsar has quit and accused the government of potentially “failing hundreds of thousands of pupils” by providing less than a tenth of the extra funding he said was needed to fund a post-pandemic catch-up learning programme.

Sir Kevan Collins, a former teacher appointed in February, resigned on Wednesday, hours after the government announced an additional £1.4bn for tutoring and teacher training to help school children in England. Collins had pressed for additional funding of £15bn.

“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,” Collins wrote in his resignation letter to Johnson.

“I am concerned that the apparent savings offered by an incremental approach to recovery represent a false economy,” he said. “Without a comprehensive and urgent response, we risk failing hundreds of thousands of pupils.”

Collins’ resignation is likely to be highly damaging to the prime minister and chancellor Rishi Sunak, who refused to sanction the bigger support package.

Downing Street said Johnson was “hugely grateful” for the work done by Collins, adding: “The government will continue to focus on education recovery and making sure no child is left behind with their learning, with over £3bn committed to catch up so far.”

Allies of Sunak said Collins’s proposal for a total £15bn of extra spending was based on “fairly weak evidence” and that the chancellor was looking to provide further help in the autumn public spending review.

Sunak argued that post-pandemic spending had to be considered “in the round” in the spending review; other services such as the NHS and courts are also clamouring for more cash to cope with the fallout of Covid-19.

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“This proposal came pretty much out of the blue,” said one ally of Sunak, arguing that some polling suggested that parents and teachers did not favour the longer school days being advocated by Collins as part of his proposal.

However, the resignation will amplify the disappointment of many in education, who echoed Collins’ view that the government offer was not a “credible” route to recovery after more than a year of disrupted learning.

Education leaders saw the appointment of Collins, who was previously a leader in local government and education charities, as a sign of an ambitious approach to the required recovery.

Many also supported his commitment to push for “radical” changes, including lengthening the school day in order to offer activities such as sport and music as part of catch-up efforts.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was “sad but not surprised” that Collins had resigned over an education package that “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 said. “We hope that this episode will focus the mind of ministers on the need to match their recovery rhetoric with action.”

Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said the resignation was a “damning indictment” of the government’s catch-up strategy.

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

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