Boris Johnson must listen to his former schools catch-up tsar and stump up more cash for education, Sir Keir Starmer has urged, as he warned a lack of funds will “hold children back for a generation”.
The Labour leader accused the PM of having “rolled over” and accepted the Treasury’s refusal to stump up extra funding to help pupils, which Sir Kevan Collins resigned over last week.
Adding that children are “losing out” in comparison to children in other countries, Sir Keir urged Mr Johnson to provide enough money to fund a proper schools recovery plan.
Using PMQs to probe Mr Johnson about the resignation of his school catch-up tsar, the Labour leader said: “In February the prime minister appoints an expert to come up with a catch-up plan for education.
“He’s a highly respected expert, consults widely and comes up with a plan.
“The Treasury baulks at it and says we’ll only provide 10%, yes one tenth, of what’s needed. The prime minister rolls over, whatever he says, and children lose out. So much for levelling up.”
“Let me help the prime minister with the numbers,” Sir Keir said. “The funding he announced last week is about £50 per child per year, and even if you add in previous announcements, in England it’s only £310 per child over four years.
“Yet in the US there’s a catch-up plan worth £1,600 per child and in the Netherlands it’s £2,500.”
But Mr Johnson told Sir Keir to “do some catch-up on his own mathematics”, saying the UK’s education recovery programme “includes the biggest programme of tuition – of one-to-one, one-to-two, one-to-three tutorials – anywhere in the world”.
The PM also seemed to acknowledge that more financial support would need to be invested into the education sector in the future to ensure pupils effectively make up lost learning time.
He said: “In addition to the £14 billion I’ve already referred to, there’s already another £1.5 billion of catch-up – this is a £3 billion catch-up plan just for starters.”
Sir Keir called on the PM to back his party’s motion on education due to go to a vote this afternoon, adding: “The prime minister’s been all over the place when it comes to education and he’s on the wrong side of it again.”
Mr Johnson did not disclose whether or not he would back Labour’s motion, but outlined the support his government has provided for the education sector since being in power.
“We put in the tough measures that are needed to give kids a better education across the country,” the PM said.
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This was the first PMQs since Sir Kevan offered his resignation over the government’s school catch-up programme last week.
Announcing his departure, Sir Kevan said: “After the hardest of years, a comprehensive recovery plan – adequately funded and sustained over multiple years – would rebuild a stronger and fairer system.
“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.”
Sky News understands the proposal put to the Treasury to help schools recover from lost learning during the coronavirus pandemic was worth around £15bn, with 100 extra hours of teaching per pupil.
However, only a £1.4bn package was unveiled by the government last week, with the plans denounced as a “damp squib” by unions.
The government’s plan includes £1bn to support up to six million 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged children, as well as an expansion of the 16-19 tuition fund.
A total of £400m is to help give early years practitioners and 500,000 teachers training and support, while schools and colleges will be funded to give some Year 13 students the option to repeat their final year.
Later on Wednesday afternoon, Labour is planning to force a parliamentary vote on the government’s “totally insufficient” education catch-up plan.
The party has announced its own education catch-up proposal at a cost of £14.7bn.
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