Schools catch-up decision is ‘false economy’ as Rishi Sunak urged to explain decision

CHANCELLOR Rishi Sunak has been accused of presiding over “a false economy” by vetoing the £15bn schools catch up plan as Ministers come under growing pressure to justify the decision.

Rishi Sunak visits a primary school in his Richmond constituency last September.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer made the claim at Prime Minister’s Questions as the focus switched to the Treausury after Sir Kevan Collins resigned last week as Education Recovery Commissioner.

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The Yorkshire Post also has it on authority that the Chancellor, MP for Richmond, was present at meetings with Sir Kevan before deciding to limit funding to £1.5bn for extra tutoring, bringing the total of extra resources to £3bn

Sir Keir Starmer challenged Boris Johnson at PMQs over education funding.

This has not been denied by the Treasury press office, or Mr Sunak’s special advisor, after The Yorkshire Post asked a series of questions about the Chancellor’s role in the decision and for an on-the-record justification.

They have declined to set out the ‘value for money’ criteria that was used by the Chancellor and how this differed from any economic appraisal that Sir Kevan submitted.

In his resignation letter, Sir Kevan – a long-standing ally of Boris Johnson – claimed that the Government’s decision fell “far short of what is needed” and that the total long-term cost to the country from lost learning could be as great as £100bn.

Boris Johnson defended the size and scope of the schools catch-up plan at Prime Minister's Questions.

An advisor to Mr Sunak has indicated there was no evidence to justify Sir Kevan’s plan to extend the school day – and that the plan lacked the backing of the teaching unions. They also cited the importance of collective responsibility on the Government’s part.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “The Government is committed to ensuring that children do not lose out on their education because of the pandemic – that is why we have announced over £3bn of additional funding to help pupils catch up.

“We have focussed this spending on what we know will be most effective to help our children’s learning, and we are confident that this unprecedented support will make a transformational difference to their lives.”

The spokesperson declined to elaborate on what happens next – or whether the buck for ‘levelling up’ policy, and funding, stops with the Prime Minister or the Treasury.

But Sir Keir, speaking at PMQs, warned Mr Johnson that children from “disadvantaged background” will be left hardest hit.

“The Chancellor’s decision - I assume it was the Chancellor’s decision, it always is - to hold back the investment that is needed is a completely false economy, as the long-term costs are likely to be at least £100bn,” he said.

Sir Keir said the total funding of £3bn equated to “£310 per child over four years”, and added: “The US has a catch-up plan worth £1,600 per child, and in the Netherlands it is £2,500.”

In response, Mr Johnson said: “This is a £3bn catch-up plan, just for starters, and it includes the biggest programme of tuition... anywhere in the world.”

Meanwhile Dr Catherine Davies, Associate Professor in Language Development from the University of Leeds, highlighted new research which reveals a child who regularly attended two days a week during lockdown learned on average 48 more new words than those that didn’t – and the effect was more pronounced among children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Dr Davies said: “The youngest children in our education systems must not be forgotten when the Government allocates funding for the Covid recovery.

“The skills and experiences that early years education nurtures in children are the foundations for success throughout their time at school and beyond.”

PM challenged over levelling up’s “markers of success”

BORIS Johnson cited a £640bn programme of investment to transform “people’s lives, hopes and opportunities” after being challenged by Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman to define his levelling up policy’s “markers of success”.

“We believe that there is talent, genius and flair around the whole country but opportunity is not evenly distributed. That is our ambition and that is what we are doing with our campaign for levelling up,” said the Prime Minister.

Last week Lord Gus O’Donnell, a former Cabinet Secretary who served three prime ministers, called for a skills-led focus to the policy.

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