Williamson ‘deluded’ over DfE support for school pupils

Union leaders question education secretary's claim that 'there is nothing we wouldn't do' for pupils during Covid

John Roberts

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Education secretary Gavin Williamson has been accused of being detached from reality after he claimed that "there is really nothing we wouldn't do" to support pupils' education during the coronavirus pandemic.

NEU teaching union joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said that "only in an alternative universe" could it be said that the government was doing everything it could to support schools and colleges through Covid.

Mr Courtney highlighted the problems that schools and pupils have faced with free school meals and laptops, and said that teachers, leaders and support staff would be alarmed by the education secretary's statement.

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The comments have also been questioned by the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton.

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He suggested that Mr Williamson "seems to have forgotten" the controversy caused by the government's refusal to fund free school meals during the half-term holiday, and "the fact that the most disadvantaged children currently face the prospect of going hungry over Christmas". 

The Department for Education has published a blog today on why it is keeping education settings open during the new national lockdown, which is set to start tomorrow.

In this, Mr Williamson says: "When it comes to our children there really is nothing we wouldn’t do to make sure they get the education they deserve. 

"The wellbeing and long-term future of all our young people is a national priority, and they’ve already lost crucial learning time.

"This is particularly true for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who could least afford to fall behind. Every day they spent out of school is another that increased the gap between them and the rest of their class.

"This is why we have allocated £350 million to help these youngsters get extra tuition if they need it, included within the £1 billion Covid catch-up plan."

But Mr Courtney said: "Only in an alternative universe could it be said that this government is doing everything it can to support schools and colleges through Covid.

"Gavin Williamson has failed to deliver free schools meals and IT equipment to disadvantaged pupils, and he and [schools minister] Nick Gibb are just about the only people left who still believe exams can be conducted as normal in 2021.

"Their failure to work with the profession on making workplaces Covid-secure has led, inevitably, to a rising case count in schools and colleges.

"The education secretary’s delusion and detachment from reality will alarm heads, teachers and support staff, who are doing their best to cope each day with the results of the government’s prolonged and continued failure to protect education during this pandemic.”

Mr Barton said: "We agree with the education secretary that keeping schools open is the right priority in the new national lockdown, but we have to take issue with his claim that there is nothing the government wouldn’t do to make sure children get the education they deserve.

“He seems to have forgotten the recent furore over the government’s refusal to fund free school meals during the half-term holiday, and the fact that the most disadvantaged children currently face the prospect of going hungry over Christmas unless the government agrees to extend free school meal provision over holiday periods.

"This is connected to education because it is very clear that good nutrition is a vital component in children being able to learn effectively."

He also highlighted the issue of Covid costs being faced by schools that the department is not reimbursing and the question marks over next year's exams. 

Mr Barton added: "There are also still unresolved questions despite the fact that we are now in the second half of the autumn term, and the recent decision to cut the allocation to schools of laptops for disadvantaged children because there clearly aren’t enough to go round.

"These are crucial educational issues which impact most on the learners who most need support.

“If the education secretary wants to make sure children get the education they deserve then these are some good starting points for action.”

In the blog, Mr Williamson adds: "All our education settings are operating with strict safety measures in place to keep children safe and minimise the risk of infection.

"I’ve been visiting many of them and I know that children are adapting spectacularly well to these and have got back into the swing of learning in spite of the adjustments.

"As well as enforcing strict hygiene protocols, schools have always been able to test any children and staff who developed coronavirus symptoms and I am glad to say that we are making huge progress in testing for the disease."

The DfE blog also highlights comments from Professor Chris Whitty, England chief medical officer, who told the Commons Science and Technology Committee yesterday that data suggested teaching was not a high-risk profession. 


He also said: "There is really clear evidence that not being at school is a big disadvantage to children and has mental health impacts."

Prof Whitty added that, "on balance of risk", it was his view that children should be in school.






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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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