THE credibility of Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is being questioned following the exams and schools reopening fiascos.
Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson said that it was ‘remarkable’ that Mr Williamson was still in post while his officials had accepted responsibility for the department’s failure and resigned. The Head of Ofqual and the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education both resigned but Mr Williamson did not.
Mr Esterson believs that the ‘last straw’ was the release of guidance to schools just days before the new term on the Friday evening of the August bank holiday weekend.
Mr Esterson said: “Our head teachers and school leaders have worked tirelessly through lockdown and over the summer to make schools safe for pupils’ return.
“After the trauma of the exams fiasco, where thousands of students’ grades were unfairly downgraded, the Department for Education then decided that the Friday night before a bank holiday weekend, just five days before the start of the new term, was an appropriate time to release updated guidance. It is the last straw and just demonstrates that Gavin Williamson has zero credibility among staff or parents.
“School leaders in my constituency are telling me they were horrified to receive this new guidance late at night before the bank holiday weekend and that the guidance didn’t even make clear what was new.
“Then this week we hear that Ofqual repeatedly warned the Minister that the algorithm for awarding exam grades would let some children and parents down, and that the Education Secretary cancelled the exams against Ofqual advice. In fact Ofqual warned Mr Williamson in March that the use of the algorithm was very much a last resort precisely because of the flaws it contained.
“It is incompetence on a grand scale, and it is remarkable that the Education Secretary is still in the post!”
Mr Esterson said he had been contacted by school leaders who told him that it was 10pm on the Friday evening of the bank holiday weekend that they received new guidance for schools regarding safe opening.
Some said they had taken their families away for a late-summer break and were totally unprepared to deal with the proposed changes.
Mr Esterson said: “The government has had months to consider how schools can safely operate. The unions have repeatedly asked for timely guidance and have offered to work with the government. But these offers to work together have been ignored by ministers and the end result is chaos and confusion.
“School leaders tell me they had already written their protocols and risk assessments for reopening based on the previous guidance. They thought they were ready. Education Ministers showed a complete lack of understanding of how schools work in changing when they did.
“How can 10pm on the Friday preceding a bank holiday weekend be in any way an appropriate time to release a 28,000-word detailed guidance document?
“The guidance even carried a warning to head teachers about protecting teacher wellbeing. It’s a pity that Gavin Williamson and his colleagues didn’t consider teacher wellbeing in the way they drew up their plans.
“School leaders have had enough to do over the summer – along with all the usual work they have to put in ahead of any school year starting. I have written to the Education Secretary to say that any further guidance should be released in a way that is planned and timely and less likely to impact on the well-being of school leaders. It should also be drawn up in collaboration with schools and unions.”
Bill Esterson said schools should be issued with guidance immediately regarding what will happen when there are outbreaks of Covid-19 or where there is a local lockdown.
He said: “We still haven’t seen the plan for how we will keep our schools safe in the event of Covid outbreaks among students or during local lockdowns. How will the government ensure that children’s education is not damaged further?
“The whole approach of the government to schools during the pandemic has been shambolic. The Education Secretary has zero credibility with staff or parents. He has created confusion and undermined confidence at the very time everyone needs to believe it is safe to go back to school. It is remarkable that he has not been sacked by the Prime Minister but if he is to stay in his job he must learn from his mistakes and work with those who know what they are doing in schools to make sure schools stay open and that children, staff and families are safe.”