Schools catch-up plan will hold Britain back for generation, says Starmer

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As reported by The Guardian, ministers’ plans for post-COVID schools catch-up is so unambitious it will “hold Britain back for a generation”, Keir Starmer has said at prime minister’s questions

The Labour leader repeatedly asked Boris Johnson why his government had ignored recommendations from its own catchup commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, and instead announced a scheme costing a tenth of what Collins had called for, prompting his resignation.

Starmer said: “Let me get this right. In February, the government appoints an expert to come up with a catchup plan for education. He’s a highly respected expert, consults widely and comes up with a plan. The Treasury balks at it and says we’ll only provide 10% of what’s needed. The prime minister rolls over and children lose out. So much for levelling up.”

The decision to reject Collins’ proposals for about £15bn in catchup investment in favour of a plan costing £1.4bn was “a completely false economy”, and failure to act would create long-term costs of at least £100bn and particularly affect pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, he said. “If the government doesn’t change course, it will hold Britain back for a generation.”

Starmer added: “We’ve been here before. Free school meals: U-turn. Exams fiasco: U-turn. Now catchup. The prime minister has been all over the place when it comes to education, and he’s on the wrong side of it again.”

Johnson declined to answer any of Starmer’s questions about why Collins’ plan had been rejected, at one point earning a rebuke from the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, for instead talking about Labour education policy from a decade ago.

The prime minister instead appeared to argue, incorrectly, that Labour opposed the idea of extra tuition to assist children who have fallen behind because of the disruption of COVID.

The government plan would allocate about £1.2bn for tutoring, while Labour’s alternative plan, costing £14.7bn over two years, would include significantly more money for tutoring, as well as funds for other measures such as mental health support and activities.

Johnson said: “We all know that there are classrooms in this country where pupils are getting private tuition, thanks to the hard work of their parents. He asks about levelling up: what we want to do is get on the side of all the kids who don’t have access to that that tutoring.”

After Starmer pointed out details of the Labour plan and asked which specific areas Johnson disagreed with, the prime minister again appeared to argue that Labour had previously opposed tutoring, rather than called for more of it.

Johnson said: “If he is now saying that he supports our tutoring programme, and that’s what I think I understood from him just now, then that is a good thing.”

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