Need for 'massive' post-pandemic schools catch up plan is 'urgent' says Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey

The need for a “massive” post-pandemic education catch-up plan is “urgent,” Sir Ed Davey has said, as he called for £15 billion to be pumped into the system, with a third of that being funnelled to parents to spend how they choose.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey giving his keynote address at One Canada Square in east London, to his his party's annual Lib Dem conference which is being held virtually this year (PA/Ian West)

The Liberal Democrat leader called for £5 million to be handed to parents via vouchers which could be redeemed against catch up tutoring, extra-curricular activities or mental health support, as the pandemic could mark a “watershed” for education.

He also used his headline annual party conference speech to slam Chancellor and Yorkshire MP Rishi Sunak, who he said has “refused to help our children recover their lost learning”.

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Speaking following the breaking of a ‘blue wall’ - symbolic of the Conservative seats Sir Ed believes the Liberal Democrats need to win in order to remove Prime Minister Boris Johnson from Downing Street - the party leader said; “If we are to reverse children’s lost learning and if we are to repair lockdowns’ impact on children’s mental health, Ministers should implement in full what their own catch-up expert recommended – with a Children’s Catch Up Fund of at least £15 billion.”

He went on: “Schools should be free to spend their Covid cash as they see best.

“Headteachers and teachers know their pupils better than Tory Ministers ever will. The Government must stop micromanaging schools and wasting money.”

Sir Ed explained that supporting parents and children must be “a top priority”, pointing to the difficulties that many have faced parenting throughout the pandemic.

“Parents should get Catch-Up Vouchers to spend on what they want for their child’s education,” he said.

“Parents could choose to spend it with their child’s own school – on an after-school homework club, on one-to-one tuition, on special extra-curricular activities from sports to music lessons [...] Or with a music teacher they find. Or on therapy and counselling. As long as it was supporting the education and well-being of their child, it would be the parents’ choice.”

Sir Ed called on the Government to heed the advice of its former education catch-up tsar Sir Kevan Collins who quit after ministers refused to back his plans for a multi-billion pound recovery programme. He said Mr Sunak “refus[ed] them the catch-up funding [...] schools need. Giving them just one tenth of what the Government’s own adviser said our children need.”