A GOVERNMENT appointee largely unknown to the public has just quit a job few even knew existed, yet most of yesterday’s papers reported the resignation as front page news. After only four months in the role, Sir Kevan Collins (knighted in 2015) has relinquished the Soviet-sounding title of Education Recovery Commissioner.
For this ‘tsar’, his remit from government was ‘to oversee a comprehensive programme of catch-up aimed at young people who have lost out on learning due to the pandemic’.
Lost learning ‘due to the pandemic’, huh? We’ll come back to that.
Accorded a sizeable space in the Times to put his case, Collins had ‘recommended schools and colleges be funded to extend school time for a fixed, three-year period . . . I recommended providing significant funding for a flexible extension to school time, equivalent to 30 minutes extra every day . . . with schools also able to use the time to offer enrichment activities that children have missed out on’.
In other words, the central plank of his ‘comprehensive programme of catch-up’ was for schools to remain open for just an extra half-hour per day, and not even with the focused aim of enhancing academic attainment. Put like that, and reportedly priced by Collins at an additional £15billion (and the rest), it is perhaps unsurprising that the Treasury told Sir Kevan to check his workings; instead of which, he has huffily bunked off.
Labour, naturally, has accused the Tories of ‘failure to deliver for children now’. More surprising is the Opposition claiming to have ‘a plan to deliver the bold policies that will boost children’s recovery from the pandemic’ – there’s that phrase again – which shadow education secretary Kate Green summed up as ‘school to be open for longer, but not for extra formal learning’.
Of course Labour does not want ‘extra formal learning’: anything which might benefit bright pupils would be far too elitist and insufficiently inclusive.
Labour’s education policy, such as it is, is of course dictated by the National Education Union (NEU), which reacted: ‘Kevan Collins’s 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.’
Such sanctimony is rich coming from the union which, since the coronavirus struck, did its utmost to keep its members at home. Here the NEU’s joint general secretary Mary Bousted coldheartedly bewails teachers having to put up with infant schoolchildren ‘who are mucky, spread germs, touch everything, cry (and) wipe their snot on your trousers or dress’.
Kevan Collins’ resignation has also given the Leftist press the opportunity to grandstand. For the Mirror, which reacted with the banner headline ‘You’ve let down the children . . . again’, government withholding a blank cheque is, apparently, a ‘betrayal’.
A Guardian editorial said much the same but more long-windedly, the gist being: ‘The Government’s post-pandemic catch-up plans for pupils are very much a disaster of the present moment.’
The Guardian is another which blithely blames ‘the pandemic’ for having ‘robbed many children of almost half a year’s worth of normal in-school education’.
Hang on. Covid-19 is being anthropomorphised as though it were the virus which shut schools and kept our pupils at home.
Yet Swedish children up to 16 attended class throughout, while Germany successfully staged last year’s school-leaving exams. Here, the repeated closing of our schools and abandonment of exams were entirely political decisions.
Johnson’s government should not have heeded the siren calls to shut schools and deserves censure for having capitulated. However, those incessant demands to close came from the same people who now shamelessly complain that the wicked Tories are denying children the chance to catch up on their lost learning.
By previously demanding that England’s schools should have closed earlier and for longer, they showed no concern for children’s education. The Labour opposition, NEU and Leftist press should all spare us their crocodile tears.