UK education czar quits over lack of funding in Johnson's Covid-19 catch-up plan

The plan announced included £1 billion for a "national tutoring revolution".
The plan announced included £1 billion for a "national tutoring revolution".PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's education czar, who was tasked with helping children recover from lost schooling due to the Covid-19 pandemic, resigned over lack of funding pledged by the government.

"I do not believe it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size," Mr Kevan Collins, who was appointed in February, said in a statement after the government announced a £1.4 billion (S$2.6 billion) package for extra tutoring and training for teachers.

His resignation is a significant blow to Mr Johnson and casts doubt over the Prime Minister's efforts to repair the social damage and worsening inequalities created by the pandemic.

It also opens the door to attacks from the opposition Labour Party, which wasted little time in accusing the government of failing to deliver on its signature policy to "level up" the country.

"What the government has been exposed as having done is not prioritising children's education, not prioritising the well-being of children, and this is the Chancellor's responsibility for not putting the funding forward," Labour's Treasury spokesman James Murray told Sky News on Thursday (June 3).

Revolution

The plan announced on Wednesday included £1 billion for a "national tutoring revolution" which would fund six million, 15-hour tutoring courses for the most disadvantaged students and more tuition for 16- to 19-year-olds. It also included £400 million for training teachers and early-years staff.

That falls far short of the £15 billion recommended by Mr Collins to rectify lost learning during the pandemic, according to the education-focused TES, which first published the education czar's resignation letter to Mr Johnson.

"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," Mr Collins wrote.

"I hope that you are able to allocate the additional resources that are likely to be needed."

It is not only opposition politicians criticising the government. Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs Parliament's education committee, called for "radical thinking" to address the pandemic's "disastrous" impact on children.

Proper funding

"Where there is the political will, the Treasury can find the money from the back of the sofa," he told BBC radio. "There has to be that political will because we need a long-term plan for education, a proper funding settlement."

In a statement, Mr Johnson's office said the Prime Minister is grateful for Mr Collins' work and said the government "will continue to focus on education recovery and making sure no child is left behind with their learning".

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said the government's recovery fund is focused on "what we can deliver and deliver quickly", and that the government is still looking at additional measures, including a longer school day.

"We've got to spend this money wisely, we want it to have the most impact it can possibly have," she told Sky News on Thursday.

Schools in England reopened in March after a two-month closure during the third national lockdown.

Virus restrictions meant most students had only one full term of classroom-based lessons since coronavirus hit Britain in early 2020.