Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London, Britain, April 29 2021. Picture: DAN KITWOOD/REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London, Britain, April 29 2021. Picture: DAN KITWOOD/REUTERS

London — Boris Johnson’s education czar, who was tasked with helping children recover from lost schooling due to the 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,” Kevan Collins, who was appointed in February, said in a statement after the government announced a £1.4bn package for extra tutoring and training for teachers.

His resignation is a significant blow to 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, who 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 wellbeing 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.

The plan announced on Wednesday included £1bn for a “national tutoring revolution”, which would fund 6-million 15-hour tutoring courses for the most disadvantaged pupils and more tuition for 16- to 19-year-olds. It also included £400m for training teachers and early years staff.

That falls far short of the £15bn recommended by Collins to rectify lost learning during the pandemic, according to the education-focused TES, which first published the education czar’s resignation letter to 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,” Collins wrote. “I hope that you are able to allocate the additional resources that are likely to be needed.”

Not only opposition politicians are criticising the government. Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs parliament’s education committee, called for “radical thinking” on the pandemic’s “disastrous” effect on children.

“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, Johnson’s office said the prime minister is grateful for Collins’s work and 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 pupils only had one full term of classroom-based lessons since coronavirus hit the UK in early 2020.

Bloomberg

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