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Time to go

January 8, 2021 11:24 AM

m,4c (Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash)Its a well worn tradition in politics that when a minister slips up there are ritual calls for his resignation. As a general rule we tend to avoid such simplistic approaches with notable exceptions such as Dominic Cummings after his road tours in North East England. However after yet another screeching U-turn from the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson we really feel it is time for him to resign or be fired

It is not the decision per se to shut schools and cancel examinations this summer which lead us to this view but rather the fact that having made the decision he appeared to have no idea of what should happen next.

In a fast moving situation such as we face at present a degree of being caught wrong- footed is understandable but Mr Williamson whose major achievement outside parliament was as a fireplace salesman has a lot of "previous" as they say in all the best 1970s TV crime series!

He has not had a great crisis. We've had the exam debacle where he was forced to follow the devolved governments in ditching results riven by an algorithm which he defended until the media threw up numerous cases of unfairness and discrimination against poorer students. The Mr Rashford had to shame him on free school meals and in the Autumn he cut back distribution of devices to schools to allow remote learning. Ofcom have found 10% of households have no internet access. Many more will have children sharing a device.

Then before Christmas he threatened London councils with court action for wanting to shut schools early as the new covid variant ripped through the capital and then on the last day of term announced all senior school kids would be tested on return after Christmas without any plan to achieve it and little time for headmasters to organise the process or necessary extra resource

Scroll forward a few days and he announced school for younger pupils would start on time because it was low risk only to close them after one day having allowed lots of opportunity for mixing a virus spread

Then this week of chaos in England's schools deepened on Wednesday after education secretary Gavin Williamson was unable to explain how students will be awarded exam grades this summer. School leaders were left frustrated by the lack of support or detail in the statement over how to prepare staff and students for assessing A-level, GCSE and BTec grades, coming after Boris Johnson admitted schools could have to continue remote teaching beyond February.

"It is frustrating that there is not an off-the-shelf plan B ready to go. We have repeatedly called on the government and the regulator to prepare such a plan in the event of exams being cancelled, and have repeatedly offered to work with them in doing so," said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

"However, ministers have been so busy insisting that exams will take place that they have failed to ensure that there is a contingency system which can be immediately rolled out. This is, frankly, a dereliction of duty."

Speaking in the parliament on Wednesday, Williamson said it was "time to trust teachers, not algorithms", and that school-based assessments would be used to award GCSE and A-level grades to avoid a repeat of last year's exam disaster. However he also urged parents to report teachers they thought were failing to meet the government's new targets for three to five hours of remote learning each day, and said inspectors from Ofsted would be called in to investigate their complaints. The issues of lack of access to devices and broadband amongst many poorer pupils was of course ignored

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the government was still failing to provide many schools with devices such as laptops to allow disadvantaged pupils to access remote learning, despite the pandemic being in its 10th month.Is it any wonder a recent ITV poll found 92% of teachers thought Williamson shoud resign

So here we are . We have wasted months getting the infrastructure in place to enable remote learning, we have exams cancelled with no clear idea of how awarding grades will work particularly for children who have had to miss school with periods of isolation etc and are behind on the syllabus

This catalogue of panic decisions unsupported by actionable plans in situations that were foreseeable is frankly negligent and risks damaging the life chances of our children

When asked if the Prime Minister still had confidence in his Education Secretary his spokesman said "It's a huge brief and the prime minister believes the education secretary is doing it to his utmost ability,"

Unfortunately his ability is the issue!!