The education secretary did the morning media rounds this morning, facing questions about the safety of schools, when settings might reopen and calls for his resignation.
Here’s what we learned from Gavin Williamson this morning.
1. Two weeks’ notice of reopening…
Williamson told Sky News this morning the government wanted to give schools “as much notice as possible” of full reopenings “so teachers can get ready, children can prepare, and parents can get ready”.
He said he wanted to give schools a “clear two weeks’ notice period”.
“We’ll be giving schools clear indication whether they can welcome all children back. We want to give schools a clear two week notice period so they can be ready to welcome children back. If we’re in a position where we can’t welcome all children back, so children can continue to deliver remote education.”
The education secretary also defended his decision to partially close schools, which he said was in the national interest but “one I never wanted to take”.
“We had to make that decision because of the pressure on the NHS. But schools were the last to close and [will] very much be the first to open.”
2. …but no commitment to a date
When partial school closures were announced earlier this month, the government said it wanted to see them reopened after February half term.
But Williamson continued to be non-committal on a return date when pressed on the Today programme this morning.
Asked if there was any “realistic prospect” of schools reopening before Easter, Williamson said it would happen “as soon as scientific and health advice is there”, and he hoped it would happen “before Easter”.
3. Williamson insists schools are safe
Pressed on the safety of schools and recent claims by the National Education Union that the infection rate is up to two times higher in school staff than the general population, Williamson insisted schools were still a “safe environment to be in”.
He also pointed to evidence from government deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries to the Parliamentary education committee yesterday.
Harries yesterday referred to Office for National Statistics data, and said there was currently “no evidenced increased risk to the teaching profession or educational staff in schools”.
“Schools have continued to be able to operate including in areas with very high levels of Covid in a safe and proper way,” said Williamson.
“It’s right we put those measures in place but the statistics don’t actually go to point out that children or teachers are any more vulnerable than any other workforce.”
4. Resignation calls ignored
Williamson was asked to address criticism of the government and its litany of U-turns over schools, saying that his department was “dealing with a global pandemic”.
Asked on Good Morning Britain whether he had offered his resignation following calls from 92 per cent of teachers, Williamson repeatedly dodged the question.
“My one focus is making sure we deliver the best for our children,” he said.
“Your focus hasn’t been proven to be very good, has it?” replied host Piers Morgan.
Asked what grade he would give his own leadership, Williamson said: “My focus is just getting out there and doing the job. I’ll let other people do the grading.”
‘Given the level of failure during your reign have you offered your resignation to the PM?’ – @piersmorgan
‘My one focus is making sure we deliver the best for our children.’ – Gavin Williamson
Piers says the Minister has been a catastrophe and should ‘own it’. pic.twitter.com/uXBfuCbSev
— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) January 21, 2021
5. Government ‘trusts teachers’ on exams
Pressed on his plan for GCSEs and A-levels this year, Williamson confirmed they would be based on “teacher judgment”, and that Ofqual was consulting on whether “shared common resources” should be made available to help them make that judgment.
“We’re asking teachers to look at the work they’ve been doing over the whole period of time they’ve been doing their course. We’re asking teachers to make a judgment decision across a whole set of evidence. We want to trust teachers but support teachers.”
The comment doesn’t wholly match up with what we know about the current plans, as Ofqual has only said it will look into whether work done earlier in the year should be taken into account.