Pressure on Gavin Williamson after education chief quits over lack of funding

·5-min read

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is under pressure to resign after the schools catch-up tsar quit with a stinging condemnation of the Government’s £1.4 billion education recovery fund.

Sir Kevan Collins resigned on Wednesday after just four months as education recovery commissioner, warning the Government’s support package “falls far short of what is needed” to meet the scale of the challenge.

In the wake of Sir Kevan’s resignation, Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokeswoman, said the Government’s “pitiful” catch-up fund offer was “an insult” to Sir Kevan.

She said: “Our children deserve better than this useless Education Secretary. Time and time again he keeps getting it wrong. It really is the last straw – the Education Secretary has to go.”

Number 10 has said it will “continue to focus on education recovery and making sure no child is left behind with their learning”.

In a statement, Sir Kevan 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.”

Children in schools
The Liberal Democrats have said ‘our children deserve better than this useless Education Secretary’ (Martin Rickett/PA)

He added that the package of support is “too narrow, too small and will be delivered too slowly”, and he warned “not enough is being done” to help children in the early years, or students aged 16 and over.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said Sir Kevan’s resignation “tops off a truly awful day for the Government and a deeply disappointing one for all those working in schools”.

He added: “It is completely understandable why Sir Kevan chose not to become a pawn in whatever game the Government is playing.”

The DfE’s programme includes £1 billion to support up to six million, 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged pupils, as well as an expansion of the 16-19 tuition fund.

A further £400 million will go towards providing high-quality training for early years practitioners and school teachers to ensure children progress.

Education Select Committee
Former Education Recovery Commissioner Sir Kevan Collins (House of Commons/PA)

The announcement, made during half-term, does not include plans to lengthen the school day or shorten the summer break.

Sir Kevan had recommended that schools and colleges should be funded for a flexible extension to school time – the equivalent to 30 minutes extra every day – as part of his long-term plans.

It has been previously reported he called for £15 billion of funding and 100 extra hours of teaching per pupil, rather than the £1.4 billion additional fund announced by the Government.

In a comment piece on his resignation in The Times on Thursday, Sir Kevan wrote: “There has been debate throughout the pandemic about the role of experts, but I have always been clear: experts advise, politicians decide.

“I am sorry not to have secured the comprehensive support for children that I believe is needed. But the final decision was not mine.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “This is the moment where Boris Johnson’s empty words on prioritising education clash with reality.

“With a Treasury unwilling to budge, and a Prime Minister and Education Secretary happy to stand back and do little or nothing, it is clear that Kevan Collins’ valiant efforts to deliver a serious recovery package fell on the deafest of ears. This is a comprehensive failure of Government at a critical hour.”

On Wednesday Mr Williamson sidestepped questions about reports of a row with the Treasury over the funding, but he did admit “there will be more that is required”.

Meanwhile, Tory MP and chair of the Women and Equalities Committee Caroline Nokes said the Government should listen to Sir Kevan, work better with teaching unions and ensure catch-up funding is targeted towards the most disadvantaged children, otherwise they will emerge from the pandemic “even further behind their peers”.

Ms Nokes told ITV’s Peston she could speak with authority on the subject as her parents were teachers.

“They know what it’s like to be on the front line,” she said, “and it’s really important that the investment goes into children, or they become a lost generation … and they won’t be as productive in the workplace in years to come, for the rest of their lives. So we have an opportunity now – we should grab it with both hands.”

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson has promised additional funding for schools in the future (Justin Tallis/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised there would be “more coming through” to support children.

A Number 10 spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister is 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, with over £3 billion committed for catch-up so far.”

Sir Kevan, the former chief executive of the Education Endowment Fund (EEF), was appointed in February to lead the Government’s work to help children recover any learning lost amid Covid-19.

He had been advising the Government on the long-term measures needed to support pupils who have faced disruption.