First published in The Sun:
THE past year has been nothing short of a disaster for our children.
Coronavirus has seen schools shut, playdates cancelled and kids locked indoors.
More than a year in, and the four horsemen of the Covid apocalypse are now galloping towards them.
These four scourges are — worse grades, a health epidemic, a litany of safeguarding hazards and potentially a lifetime of lower wages.
Young people have made enormous sacrifices during the pandemic.
We know the virus tends to not make children very sick, yet they put their lives on hold to protect the rest of us.
We owe them and owe them big.
Even before the virus crashed across the country there were problems in our education system.
Poorer kids were around 18 months behind their richer classmates by the time they sat their GCSEs, white working-class boys and girls on free school meals underperformed compared to every other group.
We need a long-term plan for education, and we need it now.
This plan must be radical, it has to think out of the box, it has to prepare our young people for the world of work and it has to repair the damage of Covid.
Crucially — are you listening, Treasury? — it also needs to be properly resourced.
It seems astonishing that the NHS can have a ten-year plan, the MoD can get an extra £16billion and hundreds of billions are spent on the economy and furlough, yet when it comes to education, everything is piecemeal.
Too often head teachers feel like Oliver Twist, asking: “Please sir, can I have some more?”
The Department For Education must step up and come up with a plan, and use Sir Kevan Collins’ proposals as a starting point.
And it must make Chancellor Rishi Sunak cough up the cash.
There is no point coming up with a plan if the Treasury will not stump up the money.
Now to the plan itself.
FIRST, the billions put into the tutoring programme is a very good start, but we must ensure it reaches the most disadvantaged pupils
Latest figures suggest just four in ten of the neediest pupils are getting this tutoring. We must double this.
SECOND, there needs to be reform of the Pupil Premium, extra money designed to help disadvantaged kids with their studies.
Some cash-strapped schools are using this cash to repair leaky roofs, because it is not ringfenced.
This money must be protected and get to the kids who need it most.
THIRD, we need to look at reform of the curriculum.
We are about to enter a world where robots and AI are king.
We must prepare our students for that. It is no good just teaching our kids the names of the fish in the river, we must teach them how to fish too.
We should replace A-levels with a baccalaureate encompassing vocational and technical education.
Yes, we need more sparkies and plumbers, but we need apprentices in journalism, banks and government too.
FOURTH, as Sir Kevan Collins suggested, we need longer school days.
Some parents may be wary of this, but hear me out.
This is not about forcing children to stay in class learning Latin until 6pm.
It is about providing a slightly longer day so they can take part in sport, or catch up on their studies.
This is all the more important for kids who have been locked indoors for months on end.
All the evidence shows that if you increase sporting activities at the end of the day it boosts numeracy and grades across the board, and children’s happiness.
Yes, it is expensive, but it could be the key to clawing back that year that children spent stuck at home with just a dodgy Zoom link for a school.
The Treasury says there is not enough evidence to support longer days.
They are wrong. There is a wealth of evidence out there.
Why didn’t they introduce pilot areas to trial it if they wanted more proof?
The Government is doing some great work on skills and lifelong learning for adults.
But surely the core of levelling up must be about improving education and giving young people that chance to climb the ladder of opportunity.
Levelling up cannot just be about infrastructure, it must mean life chances.
Let the Prime Minister give education the political muscle other departments have and transform the lives of children once and for all.