Sir Kevan Collins, who is in charge of the country’s education recovery, said he has “nothing to lose” after coming out of semi-retirement to take on the task.
Grilled by MPs on the education committee today about what he will do in the face of resistance from the government, Sir Kevan said: “One of the benefits of doing this at this time of my life is I feel pretty unencumbered. I have nothing really to lose other than to give people the best advice I can.
“And of course I am not going to walk away from a challenge or a fight in that…I have almost come out of semi-retirement to do this because it’s a moment of genuine national responsibility for all of us who care about young people, and I will give it straight to people in terms of what we need to do.”
He said it is important that people are “fearless” and not “tentative” in the way they respond to the recovery of children’s education.
Children who were already at a disadvantage before the pandemic have been hit harder by school closures than others, he said, adding that the recovery plan is revealing “underlying scars and issues in our system.”
It is as important that children catch up on non- academic subjects as it is academic ones, he said, adding that younger children have missed out on playing with their friends, while older ones have missed competitive sport.
Professor Becky Francis, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said evidence shows there is a “tapering of benefit” the longer the school day lasts, and there are issues about pupil attention and what can be required of them.
She said: “There may be more benefit in looking at attendance and making sure disadvantaged kids are attending school. The value for money and impact on results may be better than simply extending school.” She said “teacher quality” is the most important thing that will help pupils catch up – especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Sir Kevan added that if summer schools are set up it should be down to schools to decide which pupils attend. He said: “We need to trust people on the ground to put these things together rather than decide them from the top.”
He added that the term “learning loss” risks making young people feel like they are “not as good as you might have been.” He suggested using the words reconnecting, rebuilding or recovery instead.