Proposals to extend the school day risk being shelved amid a government row over the multi-billion pound price tag, The Telegraph understands.
Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, has announced that disadvantaged children who need help to catch up will be offered tuition as part of a multi-billion pound Covid recovery programme. He also pledged millions for teacher training.
However, he stopped short of an expected announcement that the school day will be lengthened, saying only that the proposal will be subject to a fresh review which will report back later this year.
The Telegraph understands that the plans are now in doubt amid claims from Whitehall insiders that Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, and Treasury officials are “massively” pushing back against the proposal due to the estimated £15 billion cost of implementing a wide-ranging package of reforms.
On Tuesday night the BBC reported claims that up until last week a £10 billion package was being discussed, but was scaled back due to resistance from the Treasury.
Writing for The Telegraph (below), Mr Williamson said: "One would imagine, intuitively, that combining this tutoring with more time in the school day would have an impact.
"But I recognise this is a major step. That’s why I am launching a formal review of the evidence."
The change to the school day was recommended by Sir Kevan Collins, Boris Johnson’s catch-up tsar.
Sir Kevan, who has compiled a report for the Prime Minister, is understood to have recommended giving pupils an additional 100 hours of school time over the academic year – or a minimum 35 hour week in total – to help them make up for the disruption caused by repeated lockdowns.
He is also said to have recommended piloting the scheme in 2,000 schools before rolling it out nationally.
Allies claim Sir Kevan has been left “deeply frustrated” by the Treasury, which is said to view the wider reforms as less of a priority than tackling other challenges thrown up by the pandemic.
“The sense is that the Treasury is completely in denial about all of this,” one said. “It’s proving very difficult to persuade him [Mr Sunak] that a focus on a broad and balanced education is part of the solution. He is rather prone to looking for gimmicks.”
But other sources suggested that while Mr Sunak was fully behind the tuition programme, backed personally by the Prime Minister, he was yet to be convinced of the case for changes to the school day.
“It’s not that Rishi doesn’t want to spend money on schools, he just thinks the focus now should be on skills rather than schools,” a Conservative source added, referring to the Chancellor’s multi-billion pound work programme.
“He thinks that this skills and jobs programme needs to be done immediately.”
The row comes as the Education Secretary announces that pupils will be offered up to 100 million hours of tuition.
A £1 billion cash injection over three years will support up to six million courses of 15-hour tutoring slots for disadvantaged pupils.
It will be available to children of reception age through to 19, and will also enable schools to employ local tutors alongside an expansion of the National Tutoring Programme.
A further £400 million will go towards providing high-quality training to early years practitioners and 500,000 school teachers to ensure children progress.
As part of the recovery package, some Year 13 students will be given the option to repeat their final year if they have been badly affected by Covid, with schools receiving funding from the Government to accommodate the extra numbers.
Mr Williamson said that the funding will provide children the opportunity to benefit from tutoring that has typically been “the preserve of more affluent families” and schools in wealthier areas.
He also warned that new research due to be published by the Department for Education later this week will show that the third lockdown in January put pupils “similarly far behind as they were in September 2020” following months of closures after the first lockdown.
Echoing his comments, Mr Johnson said: "This next step in our long-term catch-up plan should give parents confidence that we will do everything we can to support children who have fallen behind and that every child will have the skills and knowledge they need to fulfil their potential."
In a sign of the fracture in Whitehall over the issue, Downing Street insiders on Tuesday night insisted that the proposals had not been ruled out, with Sir Kevan stating that more investment will “be needed to meet the scale of the challenge”.
Treasury sources declined to comment on the row, stating only that it was committed to a long-term education recovery plan.
We must support pupils to catch up on the learning that they have lost
By Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary
Like many of you I will be spending this half-term trying to think up ways to occupy my kids.
Having them around during the day takes me back to the beginning of the year, when my wife and I shared the struggle of so many parents: juggling work while trying to get our daughters to focus on their home schooling.
The teachers were doing a great job keeping their pupils engaged remotely, but it was clear that this wasn’t as good as the education young people get in the classroom.
We are now approaching the end of a second academic year blighted by disruption from the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of young people will move on to the next phase of their lives, sometimes leaving formal education entirely.
At the other end of the spectrum, the youngest children, at their most formative stage of learning, will now have had an enormous percentage of their lifetime learning disrupted.
On Wednesday, I am announcing the third major package of catch-up funding in twelve months, demonstrating the long-term, evidence-based approach we are taking to boost the learning of children of all ages, as we help them recover from the disruption caused by the pandemic.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. We must support pupils as they catch up on the learning that they have lost.
Tutoring is something that for a long time has been the preserve of the more affluent families – the thing that you did if you wanted to give your child additional help with something they were struggling with at school, or push them further to give them the edge in exams or with university applications.
But obviously you were only able to do this if you had enough money in your pocket to pay for it.
This has also meant that the tutoring market has always been concentrated in our affluent cities, promoted by schools with more affluent families.
Our focus on tutoring will help pupils from all disadvantaged backgrounds to catch up. I am radically expanding tutoring to deliver up to 100 million hours of tuition to every corner of the country, with over £1 billion new funding to bring the total the Government is providing in this space to over £1.5 billion over four years.
And that’s why we are encouraging schools to direct pupil premium funding towards tuition in the knowledge it is one of the best ways they can help their pupils.
This tuition will extend from our early language programme for reception age children, right through to age 19.
However old your child, if their school identifies them as disadvantaged, perhaps because they are receiving pupil premium, and they need extra tuition support to catch up following the pandemic, that support will be available.
One would imagine, intuitively, that combining this tutoring with more time in the school day would have an impact.
But I recognise this is a major step. That’s why I am launching a formal review of the evidence on the impact of time in school and college and length of the academic day on education, wellbeing and mental health outcomes for children and young people. I will set out findings later in the year.
Where we do have conclusive evidence is the research I commissioned from the Education Policy Institute and Renaissance Learning, to provide me with termly snapshots of pupil progress over the course of this year.
It couldn’t be clearer about the damage done to pupils’ attainment whenever education switches from face-to-face to remote, despite the undoubtable and immense efforts of our brilliant teachers to make the most of online platforms.
New research due to be released shortly will show that the January lockdown set pupils similarly far behind as they were in September 2020.
If it wasn’t already abundantly clear, it now is – a child’s teacher brings huge value to them every day back in the classroom.
That is why I am incredibly proud to be recognising the efforts and dedication of our teachers today.
Five hundred thousand school teachers and many early years practitioners will now have the opportunity to access funded, evidence-based training so they have every possible tool to support them to deliver excellent teaching.
Pupils up and down the country will benefit from having teachers trained to the latest world-class standards, so every moment they are back in the classroom makes the greatest impact to their life chances.
To all of you – parents, teachers and students - thank you and keep going. I know it’s been the toughest of years, and we have an immense challenge still to come.
This is the third huge step forward from the Government to build back better and support you to recover from the pandemic.
I will keep working to deliver what works, and what’s needed to make sure every child has the support they need.