Published: 11:40, 02 June 2021
| Updated: 13:34, 02 June 2021
The announcement by the government today of an extra £1.4 billion to help pupils catch-up on learning lost during the pandemic has been described as "wholly inadequate".
Alan Brookes, chairman of the Kent Association of Headteachers, launched a scathing attack on the Department for Education, calling the level of investment a "missed opportunity".
Kent Association of Headteachers chairman Alan Brookes talks about the government's catch-up funding for schools
The money will be used to offer pupils up to 100 million hours of tuition as part of the government’s catch-up programme for children in England who have faced disruption due to Covid-19.
But the £1.4bn – made available on top of £1.7bn already pledged – has come under fire following suggestions that the government’s education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, called for 10 times as much to be invested.
Mr Brookes said he was disappointed but not particularly surprised by the "small amount of money that's been allocated".
"The government appointed a recovery tsar to look at this. He recommended £15bn and the government have come up with less than a tenth of the recommendation from their own appointee.
"Clearly it's wholly inadequate to do the job that it's meant to be doing."
Mr Brookes, who is also executive head of Fulston Manor Academies Trust in Sittingbourne, pointed out that at the height of the pandemic, £7bn a month was "quite rightly" being spent on the furlough scheme.
But the extra funding for schools, he said, worked out at about £50 per pupil.
"It goes nowhere towards the recovering of the lost time or the ambition to build back somewhat better.
"It's a favourite government phrase – 'build back better'. They don't seem to apply it when it comes to education. It's an opportunity missed."
On Education Secretary Gavin Williamson's description of creating a "revolution in teaching", Mr Brookes said: "It will be nothing like a revolution in teaching. I saw him this morning talking about turbo charging.
"Quite frankly, £50 per pupil is not going to turbo charge or even move anything forward."
He called for a much bigger package of measures focussing on issues such as cultural activities, children's mental health and school counsellors, rather than "two or three tutorial sessions".
He added: "I know they're talking about 'Well, there's going to be a spending review. You might see more money then'. We've, I think, run out of faith that any of these promises will come to fruition."
Commenting on the idea of Year 13s retaking their final year, he said: "I just don't think it's really been thought through. It's another one of these superficially attractive ideas."
He questioned how it would be staffed and if sufficient accommodation could be found if large numbers of students took up the offer.
"Much better would be a whole review of the exam system that we have currently – to look at a better way of assessing children both at GCSE and A-levels; so we don't get into the muddle and the mess that we got into last year and that we unfortunately appear to be heading for again this year.
"Take an opportunity to be bold. The last thing they are is bold. It's tinkering around the edges. It's soundbite politics and it's not anything that's going to make much difference to lives of young people and the future of the country."
Mr Brookes said schools would do their best with the funding they received, as "anything is better than nothing", so there would be some children who could derive some benefit from it.
But he stressed that a better way of improving education outcomes would be to drive down child poverty and invest in children's social services.
"They talk about valuing education but this, I'm afraid, demonstrates that realistically, they don't."
He added that he hoped the spending review in the autumn would result in some "proper funding coming into the system".
"It's depressing," he concluded. "They talk about valuing education but this, I'm afraid, demonstrates that realistically, they don't."
Mr Brookes' views were echoed by others representing education bosses across the country.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), denounced the funding as “dispiriting”.
He told Sky News: “It’s pretty pitiful. Only yesterday we were hearing stories about extending the school day and, even if some people disagreed with it, at least there was a sense of ‘Let’s do something radical, let’s do something different’.
“Today’s announcement essentially equates to £50 per head; you compare that with the USA, which is putting £1,600 per head, per young person, or the Netherlands, £2,500 per head.
“It’s time to stop the rhetoric, I think, and start the action on behalf of children and young people.”
The DfE’s programme includes £1bn to support up to six million, 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged pupils, as well as an expansion of the 16-19 tuition fund which will target subjects such as maths and English.
A further £400 million will go towards providing high-quality training for early years practitioners and school teachers to ensure children progress.
But the announcement does not include plans to lengthen the school day, or shorten the summer break – although the Education Secretary signalled he supported a shake-up of the amount of teaching time on offer at some schools.