Starmer: Prime Minister must make fresh education U-turn and boost catch-up pot

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer (PA Wire)
13:10pm, Wed 09 Jun 2021
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Boris Johnson must make another education U-turn and boost funding to help children catch up on lost learning, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The Labour leader claimed the Prime Minister’s education policy is “all over the place” and he is “on the wrong side” of the issue again when it comes to the post-Covid 19 recovery.

Catch-up tsar Sir Kevan Collins walked away from his post and criticised the Government’s £1.4 billion recovery fund for children affected by school closures due to the pandemic, amid reports he was pushing for £15 billion.

We’ve been here before: free school meals, U-turn; exams fiasco, U-turn; now catch-up. The Prime Minister’s been all over the place when it comes to education and he’s on the wrong side of it again

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir said: “In February the Prime Minister appoints an expert to come up with a catch-up plan for education.

“He’s a highly respected expert, consults widely and comes up with a plan.

“The Treasury baulks at it and says we’ll only provide 10%, yes one tenth, of what’s needed. The Prime Minister rolls over, whatever he says, and children lose out. So much for levelling up.

“Let me help the Prime Minister with the numbers. The funding he announced last week is about £50 per child per year, and even if you add in previous announcements, in England it’s only £310 per child over four years.

“Yet in the US there’s a catch-up plan worth £1,600 per child and in the Netherlands it’s £2,500.”

Mr Johnson said Sir Keir “needs to do some catch-up on his own mathematics”, adding: “In addition to the £14 billion I’ve already referred to, there’s already another £1.5 billion of catch-up – this is a £3 billion catch-up plan just for starters.

Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions (PA Wire)

“It includes the biggest programme of tuition – of one-to-one, one-to-two, one-to-three tutorials – anywhere in the world.”

Mr Johnson said it was aimed at helping children who do not receive private tuition at the moment.

Sir Keir countered by urging the Prime Minister to back Labour’s “bold £15 billion” catch-up plan before adding: “How can he be on the side of the other kids? Come off it.

“We’ve been here before: free school meals, U-turn; exams fiasco, U-turn; now catch up.

“The Prime Minister’s been all over the place when it comes to education and he’s on the wrong side of it again.”

Sir Keir also asked the Prime Minister to explain which part of Labour’s education plan he opposed.

It is a fantastic thing, it is a revolution in education for this country

He said: “Is it breakfast clubs for every child? Does he oppose that? Is it quality mental health support in every school? Does he oppose that?

“Is it more tutoring for every child that needs it? Does he oppose that? Or additional investment for children that have suffered the most?

“Which part of our plan does the Prime Minister object to, and if he doesn’t object to it and agrees with it, why doesn’t he vote for it?”

Mr Johnson replied: “If he is now saying that he supports our tutoring programme – that’s what I think I understood from him just now – then that is a good thing.

“Because hitherto what has happened is that the kids of well-off parents, thanks to their hard work, have been able to rely on private tutoring. What the Government is now doing is coming in on the side of all the other kids who don’t get access to that.

“Six million kids, six million children will have access to tuition thanks to this programme. It is a fantastic thing, it is a revolution in education for this country.”

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