Williamson takes ‘cheap shot’ at Scottish education

England's education secretary says SNP not interested in making sure children benefit from ‘a knowledge-rich curriculum’

Emma Seith

Coronavirus and schools: Gavin Williamson has been accused of taking a ‘cheap shot’ at Scottish education

England's education secretary has been accused of taking “a cheap shot” at Scottish education after coming in for criticism over his handling of the school closures south of the border.

Speaking in Parliament today, Gavin Williamson referenced Scotland’s recent performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) global education rankings after an SNP MP said his decisions to move learning online in England were “reactionary” and “last-minute”.

In response, Mr Williamson said Scotland was “falling down the Pisa rankings” and then appeared to imply that Scottish schools were failing when it came to the delivery of subjects like maths, English, the sciences and art.

He added that the SNP was “not very interested in making sure that children benefit from a knowledge-rich curriculum”.


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One Scottish teacher commenting on Twitter described Mr Williamson’s remarks as “a cheap shot”.

Mr Williamson said: “It was interesting to listen to the honourable lady’s comments about students, which are probably indicative of some of the challenges in the Scottish education system, given that it has fallen down the rankings of the Programme for International Student Assessment.

Gavin Williamson 'yet to master' the teacher skill of planning

“It is really important that we support children so that they can learn. It is really important that we do everything we can to ensure that children are in a position to learn about maths, English, the sciences and the arts. It seems indicative in what she was saying that the Scottish National Party is not very interested in making sure that children benefit from a knowledge-rich curriculum.”

Mr Williamson was responding to the SNP MSP Carol Monaghan, a former teacher, who said that all student teachers knew the virtue of planning, but this was a skill Mr Williamson had apparently “yet to master”.

She also asked if resources would be available from the BBC for the Scottish curriculum after Mr Williamson said the broadcaster would be “delivering the biggest push on education in its history, bringing 14 weeks of educational programmes and lessons to every household in the country”.

Earlier today, BBC Scotland said tennis coach Judy Murray, actor Sanjeev Kohli and magician Kevin Quantum would be helping to bring educational content to pupils in Scotland to help with home learning during lockdown.

Mr Williamson’s comments followed his statement on the next steps for schools in England after prime minister Boris Johnson revealed on Monday that schools would be moving online until the half-term holiday, and the English exams would not be going ahead “as normal” this summer.

Mr Williamson said teacher-assessed grades will be used for the second year in a row in place of GCSE and A-level exams, but without an algorithm in 2021.

The exams in Scotland were cancelled last month by education secretary John Swinney because of the impact of the coronavirus on learning.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for TES Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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