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It’s not money that counts in education, Sir Kev, but how it’s spent


SIR Kevan Collins, the government’s so-called coronavirus education tsar, has resigned in the wake of the government’s decision to shelve his proposal for an extra £15billion ‘catch-up’ spending on education. Ministers have decided to add £1.4billion to the £1.7billion extra spending already on the table. As Gary Oliver reported in TCW yesterday, the educational establishment and their friends in the media are outraged. Head teachers have labelled the extra cash a ‘damp squib’.

Writing in the Times on Thursday, Sir Kevan states: ‘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.’

On the basis of this experience he expects us all to believe him: ‘During a 40-year career in education, I have been accountable for the performance of hundreds of schools and led national reforms affecting millions of children.’

Given the state of our education system one might have thought that he would have wished to keep quiet about his personal role in its demise. Sir Kevan, though, is having none of that.  

‘England’s education system is not broken,’ he told the TES teachers’ journal in 2019. ‘England has a good education system . . .’ He grudgingly admitted, however, that it is ‘not yet good enough for everybody’.

Once a teacher, Sir Kevan rose to the heights of chief executive in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets before becoming, until the end of 2019, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation. He has also had the experience of leading the 2003 Labour government’s failed ‘Excellence and Enjoyment’ strategy for primary schools. In addition, he worked on the development of a national literacy initiative in the US. In 2019 the US National Center for Education Statistics reported that average reading test scores are declining amongst American eighth-graders (those aged 13 to 14).

Sir Kevan has long regarded lack of spending as a root cause of any under-performance in our schools. In the TES interview he opined: ‘Nothing matters more than education . . . And we’re not funding it adequately.’

He seems oblivious to the fact that, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, between 1953 and 2009 overall government expenditure on education increased by around 900 per cent in real terms (A Survey of Public Spending in the UK, 2009) but according to the OECD today’s UK pupils are at a lower level of basic skills than their grandparents.

By using 2010, rather than 1953, as their statistical baseline the educational establishment have been able to point to an 8 per cent ‘real terms’ fall in spending by 2020. If the year 2000 is chosen as the baseline, however, the picture changes to a 50 per cent ‘real terms’ increase. The UK has long been amongst the world’s largest per head spenders on education.

Following the resignation of Sir Kevan the media have been keen to highlight the fact that, as a Times leader put it: ‘The US and the Netherlands are meeting their comparable challenge with packages that are far more generous . . .’

It would have been more helpful to point out that most of our educational ‘betters’, including developing countries such as Vietnam, will continue to spend much less per head but achieve far more. 

If more spending was the answer to our educational problems we would have solved them long ago. Sir Kevan Collins and the educational Blob have not learned this hard lesson and probably never will.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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