The education recovery commissioner has resigned in a row over the Government’s £1.4 billion catch-up fund on what school leaders deemed a “deeply disappointing” and “truly awful day”.
Sir Kevan Collins has quit after just four months in the role as catch-up tsar as he warned the Government’s package “falls far short of what is needed” to meet the scale of the challenge.
The fall-out over the extra funding for tuition and teacher training has prompted criticism and calls for the Education Secretary to step down.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said it “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.”
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 on Wednesday evening, 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.”
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.
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.
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.
On Wednesday, Education Secretary Gavin 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”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised there would be “more coming through” to support children.
On the education tsar’s resignation, senior Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, said it was a “real blow” to lose “someone of the stature” of Sir Kevan.
He added that the country needed “a properly resourced, radical long-term plan and funding”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added:
“He’s tried his hardest on behalf of children and young people, but, in the final analysis, the political will just wasn’t there to support him.”
In February, Sir Kevan, the former chief executive of the Education Endowment Fund (EEF), was appointed to lead the Government’s work to help children recover any learning lost amid Covid-19.
Sir Kevan, who has more than 30 years of experience working in the education sector, has been advising the Government on the long-term measures needed to support pupils who have faced disruption.
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.”
Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said his resignation was “a damning indictment of the Conservatives’ education catch-up plan”.
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.”