Budget 2021: Chancellor Rishi Sunak ‘rules out longer school days’ amid fears of ‘growing inequality’

There have been reports in the run up to the budget that the Department for Education is set to receive significantly less than has been requested to help with Covid catch up

Industry leaders have expressed concerns that inequality will worsen if the chancellor fails to provide adequate support for schools to provide catch-up sessions in the budget this week, according to The i.

There have been reports that the Department for Education will be one of the losers from Wednesday’s budget, with Sunak seemingly ruling out longer school days to help students catch up on lost time.

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At a glance: the key points

  • Rishi Sunak is expected to provide significantly less funding to the Department for Education than experts believe is required to help students make up for time lost to the pandemic
  • Speaking to Times Radio, the chancellor all but ruled out providing funding to extend the school day, which was a major part of the proposals set out to help children catch up, saying “there isn’t as strong an evidence base for it”
  • Education expert and former government catch-up tsar Sir Kevan Collins told The I that there is greater evidence to support the case for significant extra funding now than there was when he resigned over the matter earlier this year
  • He said the growing gap in attainment between private and state educated children at A-level is evidence of the need for catch-up funding
  • And a Whitehall source told the paper that the Chancellor has “killed” the plan to extend the school day, accusing him of hypocrisy and pointing out that private schools such as the one he attended run extended days
  • There have been reports that funding proposals put forward to the Treasury by both the previous and current education secretaries have been pushed back

What’s been said?

Speaking to The i, Sir Kevan said: “The evidence we have about the risk of growing inequality as a legacy of Covid is growing. We saw that in the A-level results.

“There’s increasingly international approaches and data which confirms this risk of learning loss, so it’s not going to go away. It’s there, and increasingly as you talk to the schools and talk to the heads, it’s what people are focused on.”

A Whitehall source told The i that Sir Kevan’s final request of £10bn, which was backed by the Department for Education, was turned down by the Treasury.

They said “It was quite late in the day that it was killed off by Rishi,” the source said. “It was very frustrating, very disappointing when you think you’re on for a big £10bn plan.”

“When you compare that to the amount we’ve put into young people, £3bn, it just looks wrong,” they said.

The source said Mr Sunak had remained staunchly opposed to a longer school day. “It sounds like Rishi has just killed it,” they said. They challenged Mr Sunak’s assertion that there was not enough evidence for extending the day, pointing out that private schools including the Chancellor’s alma mater of Winchester College operate longer school days so they can put on more extra-curricular activities.

“How many hours a week does Winchester do?”, they said. “Why do private schools do it?… It’s not for the fun of it, it’s because it actually produces results.”

Background

Back in February the government appointed the widely-respected Sir Kevan Collins to act as the ‘catch up tsar’ and advise government on how best to help students make up for time lost during Covid.

An expert in the field of education, Sir Kevan put together a comprehensive plan to help pupils catch up, costed at approximately £15bn.

Similarly, proposals form the Education Policy Institute put the necessary government spending at about £13.5bn.

However, after the government announced it would only provide additional funding worth around £1.4bn, later increased to £3bn over three years, Sir Kevan resigned from the role.

In his resignation letter to Boris Johnson, he said: “When we met last week, I told you that I do not believe it will be possible to deliver a successful recovery without significantly greater support than the government has to date indicated it intends to provide.”

And in comments made to The TES, he said: “A half-hearted approach risks failing hundreds of thousands of pupils.

“The support announced by government so far does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge and is why I have no option but to resign from my post”.