Williamson 'asleep on the job' over coronavirus catch-up plans

The education secretary Gavin Williamson has been accused of being “asleep on the job” over his inability to explain plans for how poorer pupils off school during the pandemic will be helped to catch up.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said during a Commons debate today that she agreed with other MPs who stated their “desire for a catch up plan for the very many vulnerable students”.

“Can he not seriously give us more information today? There must have been planning – if there hasn’t, he’s been asleep on the job,” she said.

But Williamson was unable to provide further details of any catch up plan, instead saying: “This isn’t about something just over a few weeks, this has to be an approach over a full year and more.

“That is what we are putting in place, that is how we are going to be supporting children into the long term.”

When asked again later in the debate about a catch up plan, he reiterated it was not just looking at plans over the summer, but “much more longer term”.

However, Hillier previously said she was involved a decade ago in a Cabinet Office briefing discussing the threat of a pandemic, including the discussing the closure of schools.

“It beggars belief the secretary of state can come to the house today with no clear plan for getting out the laptops which are delayed. That wasn’t planned in advance. This is already late for vulnerable pupils. And with no clear plan for catch up.”

However Williamson said the government was “on schedule” to get all the laptops sent out by the end of this month.

The education secretary also said that the government will set out “basic minimum curriculum requirements” for schools to deliver to pupils who can’t return to school. But he added no further details on this.

He had earlier confirmed the ambition to get all primary pupils back before the summer had been dropped, but said the government is still working towards all schools opening fully again in September.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper also said Williamson does not “convey any sense the government has a grip or proper plan for the future” over plans to support 16 and 18-year old pupils who feel “particularly let down”.

In response, Williamson said the government is doing “a lot of work in terms of skills to make sure we can support them in the next step of their journey”, including advice through the national careers service.