A generation of children is at risk of government failure if they fail to properly meet the educational needs caused by learning losses during the Covid pandemic, an expert on social mobility said.
The comments came after the unexpected Resignation of the head of the government’s school renovation, Sir Kevan Collins, on Wednesday in protest at his weakened offer of £ 1.5 billion in funding to help school children in England catch up on lost learning – a tenth of the £ 15 billion he recommended.
In his resignation letter, Collins said the “half-hearted approach risked abandoning thousands of students” and was “well behind” what it took to meet the scale of the challenge. He said disadvantaged and vulnerable children suffer most, and the impact is likely to be “particularly severe” in parts of the country where schools have been closed for longer, such as the north.
Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at Exeter University, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that children in England had lost 110 out of 190 days of schooling, and about 2 million children did not study at all during the initial lockdown.
Describing Collins as “one of the most respected” people in the business, he said he didn’t make the decision to step down lightly. “I just hope it’s a wake-up call for the government to see this as the start of a much bigger, more ambitious program.
“What we do know, and there is plenty of evidence to support this, is that extra instruction will be of tremendous benefit to children. And remember, this is an investment in the future. If we don’t address these issues now, the real fear is that we will fail for a whole generation.
“This involves an entire generation of children, so I believe there is compelling evidence that if done well, if you expand the class, it will help us catch up. I don’t see any other way of doing that. “
Home Secretary Victoria Atkins said the government had not ruled out extending the school day to help children catch up after the pandemic as it defended what it called the “huge” investment in recovery plans. Today she said: “We are reviewing this recommendation to extend the school day.”
Atkins said the Education Restoration Fund is “very focused on what we can deliver and deliver quickly,” although Collins cited in his resignation letter that the support package is “too tight, too small and too slow to be delivered”. She said she had not read his statement and denied that he claimed those worst hit by the pandemic failed because of the plans.
The minister told Sky News that the government was “determined to [children] back on track ”and insisted that the £ 1.4 billion for tuition announced on Wednesday was“ a huge amount of money ”.
However, senior Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons’ Special Committee on Education, said ministers need to “set their priorities for education,” adding that the Treasury Department could “find the money from the back of the sofa”, when it becomes political.
He told Today: “Of course there are funding restrictions, but the Treasury Department announced more than £ 16 billion for defense just last year. We spent £ 800m on a new research agency and £ 200m on a yacht.
“So where there is the political will, the Treasury can find the money off the back of the sofa, and that political will has to be there because we need a long-term plan for education, an adequate funding arrangement.”
He said that Damage from the pandemic to younger children had been “a disaster” in terms of mental health, achievement, protection and life chances. “We need radical thinking, thinking outside the box, a real long-term plan” [for education] and I will continue to advocate and find an appropriate funding arrangement so that this plan is properly funded. “