Education Recovery Plan: Tsar's resignation rounds off nightmare day for DfE

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Lucie Carlier

The government has been accused of waiting until half-term to “sneak out” the announcement of its Education Recovery Plan to avoid criticism about a significant lack of funding and its “lack of ambition”.

However, if that was the plan, it failed miserably as a day of heavy and scathing criticism ended with the resignation of the Education Recovery Commissioner Sir Kevan Collins.

School leaders and others have laid into the Department for Education (DfE) after it lost its battle with the Treasury and was given just £1.4bn for its recovery plan.

It has previously been estimated that as much as £15bn will be needed to properly fund the government’s “catch-up” commitments, taking into account both academic and wellbeing recovery. This is something like the figure that it is thought Sir Kevan requested.

The DfE’s announcement on Wednesday (June 1) set out £1.4bn in addition to the £1.7bn already allocated to support education recovery including the National Tutoring Programme (NTP). The new funding includes:

  • £1bn to support “up to six million, 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged school children”, as well as an expansion of the 16 to 19 tuition fund, targeting core subjects such as maths and English. This includes £218m for the NTP, £579m for schools to develop “local tutoring provision”, £222m to extend the existing 16 to 19 tutoring programme.
  • £153m to support “evidence-based professional development” for early years practitioners, including a focus on speech and language development for the youngest children.
  • £253m to expand existing teacher training and development to give 500,000 school teachers the opportunity to access “world-leading training appropriate for whatever point they are at in their career”. This includes £69m to support the Early Career Framework roll-out.
  • The DfE has said, without giving additional detail, that schools and colleges will also be funded to give year 13 students “the option to repeat their final year” if they have been “particularly badly affected by the pandemic”.

It means that the total funding committed to education recovery so far by the DfE amounts to £310 per-pupil over three years. This compares to £1,600 per pupil committed by the US government and £2,500 per-pupil in the Netherlands.

It had also been anticipated that the DfE plan would include some form of extended school day or schooling – a controversial and much debated idea in education circles – but the DfE has kicked this can down the road, committing only to “a review of time spent in school and college and the impact this could have on helping children and young people to catch up”.

There is speculation this morning that the Treasury refused to fund the extended school day plans, instead asking for further evidence to justify the move.

The DfE announcement adds:” The findings of the review will be set out later in the year to inform the spending review.”

What is clear is that after months of anticipation and after funding of as much as £15bn for education recovery being mooted, this week’s announcement has landed so badly that it led to Sir Kevan tendering his resignation to prime minister Boris Johnson late Wednesday (June 2).

His resignation letter stated: "I do not believe it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size."

Speaking on Wednesday night, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: "Sir Kevan Collins' resignation tops off a truly awful day for the government and a deeply disappointing one for all those working in schools. There is little point in appointing an internationally respected education expert as catch-up Tsar if you fail to listen to what they have to say.

“The Treasury has refused to respond to the education crisis in the same way as they have the economic one. It is completely understandable that Sir Kevan chose not to become a pawn in whatever game the government is playing."

Earlier in the day, school leaders had been scathing about the recovery plan: “This is a hugely disappointing announcement which lets down the nation’s children and schools at a time when the government needed to step up and demonstrate its commitment to education,” said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

He continued: “The sum of £1.4bn may sound like a big figure but it is divided into many different pots, has to be distributed across thousands of schools and millions of pupils, and the delivery processes outlined in the announcement seem incredibly complicated.

“There has obviously been a battle behind the scenes over funding for education recovery which the Treasury has clearly won with the result that the settlement is less than a tenth of the £15bn that was being mooted.

“The announcement has then been snuck out in half-term presumably with the hope that it won’t attract too much attention.”

The NAHT said it was a “damp squib”. Mr Whiteman added: “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. The government had the opportunity to invest in the architecture of education; instead it has chosen to paper over the cracks. Young people seem to be low on the government priority list.”

Mr Whiteman did, however, welcome the lack of a decision over extending the school day: “We are relieved to see that some of the more headline-grabbing measures previously suggested have been shelved for now. Extending the school day in particular had the potential to negatively impact on pupils’ mental health, reduce family time and leave less time for extra-curricular activities. Children’s happiness and wellbeing should be prioritised as well as their education, or we risk doing more harm than good.”

Many others were queueing up this week to denounce the lack of funding for the plan.

National Education Union: “Rarely has so much been promised and so little delivered. Where in these plans is the funding for extra-curricular activities to support children and young people to regain their confidence in their abilities and talents? Where is the funding for drama and music, sport and skills development? The Treasury has shown, in this paltry offer, that it does not understand, nor does it appreciate, the essential foundation laid by education for the nation’s economic recovery.”

NASUWT: “The government needs to recognise that schools alone cannot solve the problems caused by the pandemic and that substantial additional investment will also be needed for a raft of essential services to support children and families, including investment in mental health and counselling services. It is not in the interests of children and young people to ask teachers simply to soldier on. The announcement falls far short of what is needed to secure an education recovery or to support schools and teachers who are already working flat out.”

Education Policy Institute: “Our analysis shows that today’s funding package is a long way off what is required to remedy the lost learning seen by pupils over the last year. This was an opportunity for the government to offer significant investment in a range of evidence-based interventions that would help protect against long-run negative impacts to young people’s education and wellbeing. They have decided not to take that opportunity.”

Sutton Trust & Education Endowment Foundation: “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.”

Even Sir Kevan Collins, the DfE’s Education Recovery Commissioner, said this week that “more will be needed to meet the scale of the challenge”.

For its part, the DfE announcement said: “The government expects the £1bn investment to transform the availability and approach to tuition in every school and college over the next three years, making sure when teachers identify a disadvantaged child in need of support as a result of the pandemic, extra support is available.

“Schools will now be able to provide additional tutoring support using locally employed tutors. This will build on the successful NTP, galvanising tuition providers to deliver the one-to-one and small group tutoring for pupils right across the country, to the highest standards and greatest possible impact.”

However, Mr Barton said that the Education Recovery Plan had been a chance for the DfE to show a “real sense of ambition”. He added: “Instead, it has comprehensively blown that opportunity, and shown a depressing but predictable lack of ambition.”

The DfE has also confirmed that the contract to run the NTP is to be handedover to firm Randstad from September 2021. Randstad will be supported by Teach First to “ensure the programme is successfully set up for effective delivery and continuous improvement in academic year 2021/22”.

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