A generation of children is at risk of being abandoned by the government if it does not adequately meet the educational needs caused by the loss of learning during the Covid pandemic, a social mobility expert has said.
The comments came after the unexpected resignation of government school recovery chief Sir Kevan Collins, who resigned on Wednesday in protest over his watered-down £ 1.5bn offer to help schoolchildren in England catch up with the learning lost – a tenth of the £ 15 billion he recommended.
In his resignation letter, Collins said the “timid approach risked failing thousands of students” and was “well short” of what was needed to meet the scale of the challenge. He warned that disadvantaged and vulnerable children would suffer the most and that the impact would likely be “particularly severe” in areas of the country where schools have been closed longer, such as the north.
Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that children in England have lost 110 of 190 school days and that around 2 million children have no ‘had received no learning during the first lockdown.
Describing Collins as “one of the most respected people” in the business, the professor said he would not have made the decision to quit lightly. “I just hope this is a wake-up call for the government to see this as the start of a much bigger and more ambitious agenda.
“What we do know, and there is a lot of evidence about it, is that additional education for children will have huge benefits. And remember, this is an investment for the future. If we don’t fix these problems now, the real fear is that we are failing a whole generation.
“These are a whole generation of kids so I think there is compelling evidence that if done right, if you keep teaching longer, it will help us catch up. I don’t see any other way to do it.
Home Secretary Victoria Atkins said the government had not ruled out extending the school day to help children catch up after the pandemic, as she defended the investment as “huge” in the stimulus packages after the resignation of its head of the education revival. She told BBC Radio 4’s Today program: “We are reviewing this recommendation regarding the extension of the school day.”
Atkins said the government’s education stimulus fund was “very focused on what we can deliver and deliver quickly,” despite Collins quoting in his resignation letter that the support package was “too much. Narrow, too small and would be delivered too slowly “. She said she had not read his statement and disputed that he alleged that those most affected by the pandemic had failed in their plans.
The minister told Sky News that the government was “determined to get [children] on track “and insisted that the £ 1.4 billion announced on Wednesday for tutoring was” a huge sum of money “.
But senior Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the House of Commons education select committee, said ministers must “decide on their education priorities,” adding that the Treasury could “find the money from the back of the couch, ”where there was the political will.
He told Today: ‘Of course there are funding constraints, but the Treasury announced over an additional £ 16bn for defense last year alone, we spent £ 800m on one. new research agency, £ 200million for a yacht.
“So where there is the political will, the treasury can find the money at the bottom of the couch, and there has to be that political will because we need a long term plan for education, an appropriate funding regulation. “
He said the damage the pandemic caused to young children had been “a disaster” in terms of mental health, success, saving and life chances. “We need radical thinking, thinking outside the box, an appropriate long-term plan [for education] and I will continue to campaign for it, and an appropriate fundraising rule to ensure this plan is properly funded. “