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This was to be a quiet week. Commons in retreat, a “retention pattern” in Covid, Whitehall steps on water while waiting for the latest data on the pandemic. Aside from Grant Shapps ’overseas travel update on Thursday, the big“ event ”marked on grid no. 10 was the cash update for schools.
An emergency of £ 1.4bn, in addition to an extra £ 1.7bn already announced for students, could have been modified as a statement of intent, a temporary measure pending a further funding deal. big in the chancellor’s spending review later this year. But thanks to the great work of the Times, which revealed exclusively earlier this week, the amount of cash that had been requested, the public relations plan was torn to pieces.
Sir Kevan Collins, the recovering tsar, had wanted £ 15 billion, but instead got less than a tenth of it, at least in the short term. And his words of resignation tonight exploded both barrels not only to the lucky Gavin Williamson (whose departure from Teaching in a remodel seems almost guaranteed), but also to Boris Johnson himself.
Referring explicitly to the failure to provide aid to students in the poorest areas of the north, Collins seemed to expose the Prime Minister’s “level-up” agenda as an empty trick played on all those who voted Tory in May. . “In some parts of the country where schools remained closed for longer, such as the north, the impact of low skills on productivity is likely to be especially severe,” he said.
It is worth remembering that Collins would never be a government impulse. He is highly respected for his educational work and, until March, told the education selection committee that the £ 1.7bn committed for the first time “was not enough”. He wanted a comprehensive recovery plan, not an adhesive plaster, so it may not be strange that he ripped it off to expose the wounds underneath.
It’s not just about the educational gap. For Johnson, this once again underscores the gap between his rhetoric and actual delivery. In June 2020, it promised “a massive summer recovery operation,” but nothing of the sort materialized. Yes, the new blockades left things even more out of the way, but parents, students and teachers will not easily forget the promises made.
This March, I vividly remember Johnson telling a No. 10 press conference how important recovery was. “The theme of the legacy I believe for myself is education,” he said. “It is the loss of learning of so many children and young people that we must now focus on as a society. And I think it’s an opportunity to amend. ”If the prime minister cannot achieve his own profession of personal priority in coming out of the pandemic, what chance do all other policy areas have?
Critics will also point out that, unlike other areas of government (welfare, anyone?), There is at least one plan devised by Collins to “amend”. Their biggest package consisted of extra teaching time, not just tutoring. Still, there are some in the government who point out tonight that the idea of an extra half hour on the school day didn’t go well with teachers.
The longest day “was not thought of” and was not based on “evidence,” both red flags for Treasury. On the other hand, the distribution of £ 15bn (half of the annual primary and pre-school budget) among expenditure reviews was seen as reckless fiscal management. The chancellor’s allies insist it is not about being stingy. “If we just start signing massive checks out of a formal process, there is mismanagement of taxpayers’ money!” says one.
Yet, ultimately, the prime minister is, as he joked in recent months, the first lord of the Treasury. If he had really wanted a big, bold plan to get education back on track with a big, bold expense to match, he could have gotten it. The political problem is that an independent schooling expert has issued a condemnatory verdict on Johnson’s central policy of “leveling up,” or rather, the lack of a
Collins has also made early education his priority, emphasizing its social and academic benefit, and its underfunding in recent years. The closure of SureStarts by the Conservatives is perhaps one of the major political mistakes of the last decade of austerity. Surprisingly, Labor has failed to get to this point and has shown an unfortunate lack of focus on childcare and early years (as evidenced by Jeremy Corbyn’s priority in student enrollment rates, but according to Starmer, nor has the agenda been taken).
A cynic might say that the expected grade inflation in this year’s GCSE and Level A exam results will soften the problem. But if metrics appear that indicate that younger children from all backgrounds are falling behind expected benchmarks, the lack of a proper “recovery” or “recovery” plan will be bitterly received by struggling parents. with home schooling imposed on them this past year. .
It is possible that Johnson will come out of this last point again. But remember, two of the most important changes that forced him over the past year involved education: the A-level fiasco and free school meals. And both were matters of competition.
Collins’ resignation may have given Starmer his most powerful weapon to date, offering the upcoming election an easy way to sum up broken conservative promises and incompetence. Whether labor can capitalize is another question.
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