Williamson ‘asleep on the job’ over coronavirus catch-up plans

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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.

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  1. N Scott-Hughes

    This latest announcement by Gavin Williamson saying no more children will be going back to school before September is utterly disgraceful.
    He is not fit to be education secretary. He has thrown children and teenagers under a bus. There has been no creativity to support opening schools and no plan. It has been proven over and over again that this virus doesn’t affect children yet they are paying the price with their futures, development and mental health. This government is more interested in opening theme parks and pubs than getting children back to school.

    • Mark Watson

      Hilarious. Just when you think that Bousted and the never-go-back-to-school brigade stand alone, you realise that there are people with equally ludicrous positions on the opposite end of the spectrum.

      Reminds me of the BBC’s position that if the Labour party and the Conservative party are up in arms about how biased your coverage is … you’re probably doing the right thing!

  2. Mark Watson

    I know it’s a good catchy Government-bashing headline (right up SchoolsWeek’s alley), but if you look at what was said I don’t think Williamson was “accused of being “asleep on the job” over his inability to explain plans” as the heading of this piece states.

    Meg Hillier said “There must have been planning – if there hasn’t, he’s been asleep on the job.” So, at the risk of having to spell it out, Hillier was saying that if there hadn’t been any planning then Williamson has been asleep on the job.

    What she did NOT say was that failing to give the Commons more information on the catch up plans meant he was asleep on the job. (As important as it was to give more information, and that Williamson not doing so isn’t helpful in any way.)

    The issue of how we deal with the greater impact of school closures on disadvantaged children is massively important. It’s a shame that the feeling I get from reading this piece is that the author actually cares more about using it as a stick to beat a Governnment minister.

      • Helen

        I agree Janet. Every y10 and y12 pupil has been disadvantaged. It makes me cross that the stereotype of only pupil premium listed kids need more support.. They all deserve more than a few hours a week, they all deserve summer school catch up

      • Mark Watson

        Way to miss the entire point of the comment and focus on one small element. I’ve frequently seen you call out other commentators for not addressing someone’s point but instead focusing on a single word and trying to use that to discredit the post.

        And actually if you read what I said and want to be pernickety about it, at no point did I say that being disadvantaged was a prerequisite for struggling outside the classroom. What I said was that the impact of school closures was greater for disadvantaged children. Do you disagree with that?