Gavin Williamson proves that Cabinet ministers need better vetting – Tom Richmond

IF a private company was run so badly that it had to hire 11 chief executives in two decades, it would not deserve to stay in business.

Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson during a pre-lockdown visit to a school.
Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson during a pre-lockdown visit to a school.

Yet this is precisely how schools policy is run – the hapless Gavin Williamson is the country’s 11th Education Secretary since the turn of the Millennium.

And while the exams scandal is the worst example of incompetence and ineptitude in this period, it’s little wonder that the teaching profession becomes exasperated and so many pupils fail to reach their potential.

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Yet, while Williamson’s position was untenable before that algorithm was used to grade students, and he must go, every change at the top represents more upheaval, often at great cost, as a new Minister makes their mark.

Gavin Williamson is the 11th Education Secretary in 20 years.

It should not be like this – education policy is fundamental to this country’s future. It is the cornerstone of family life, integral to social mobility and helps to build economic foundations.

As such, it beggars belief that such an important post is at the gift of the Prime Minister of the day to hand out on a whim for reasons of political expediency rather than the postholder’s ability to do the job.

Competence – rather than loyalty – should be the determining factor and the Williamson episode shows that there needs to be a fundamental overhaul in the way Ministers are appointed to such crucial roles.

A successful company – in contrast to the example used earlier – would have a robust recruitment and interview process before settling on the best candidate.

David Blunkett, now a columnist with The Yorkshire Post, was Education Secretary for the duration of the 1997-2001 Parliament.

Why does this not happen when it comes to Cabinet appointments? An Education Secretary should be expected to serve the lifetime of a Parliament and only two in 50 years – Margaret Thatcher and David Blunkett – have done so.

As such, I hope the Cabinet Secretary persuades Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings to take a longer-term view when they decide the successor to Williamson – and the suitability of other Cabinet appointments.

For, shockingly, the Department for Education’s revolving door recruitment policy is a fairly stable one compared to the Department of Work and Pensions where there have been 15 Secretaries of State in 20 years (including Iain Duncan Smith who kept the job for nearly six years).

Appointed last September, the current occupant, Dr Thérèse Coffey, now qualifies for a long service award. No wonder the Government lurches from one set of crises to another.

AN apology to readers. Last month, I wrote an ‘‘end of term’’ report for Cabinet ministers in which the key players were graded with marks out of 10.

In the case of Gavin Williamson, the current Education Secretary in name only, I awarded him a score of three after questioning his forward planning and attention to detail. “Must do better is being kind,” I ventured.

I now realise, with the benefit of hindsight, that the algorithm that I picked for this task did not sufficiently foresee the full horror of the A-level and GCSE results scandal.

Given Mr Williamson does not want to encourage ‘‘grade inflation’’, I’m happy to rescind his mark and award ‘minus three’ instead.

It is open to appeal – if he dares to contact this newspaper, explains why he failed to ensure Ofqual’s criteria for marking students was robust, sets out why he is the right person to oversee the full reopening of schools and explains why he deserves to be trusted.

AFTER Brexit, and Covid-19, next year is likely to be just as tumultuous when it comes to domestic politics – and the country’s future.

Having spent a few days up in Scotland, there’s a weary acceptance that the SNP’s dominance will continue in next May’s Holyrood elections, thereby increasing calls for another referendum in independence less than a decade after the so-called ‘‘once in a generation’’ poll in 2014.

It’s not helped, they say, by Boris Johnson’s mixed messages. On the one hand, the PM implies that Scotland is a ‘‘basket case’’ under the SNP. On the other, it is integral to the UK’s prosperity.

How the Government squares this particular circle will be key. For, while Scots dislike Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, their mistrust of the PM appears to be greater still.

ANOTHER political factor is the contrasting political approaches to Covid-19 on different sides of the border between Scotland and England.

In Scotland, it was discernible that rules on the wearing of face coverings were being adhered to. restaurants, and even small cafes in the middle of nowhere, were also – without exception – recording the details of customers for tracking purposes.

Contrast this with Berwick-on-Tweed back on England where the precautions appears to be ‘‘advisory’’ – or back home in Leeds where the concept of ‘‘social distancing’’ now needs to be ancient history at some hostelries that I have passed (and not frequented).

I WAS taken with the green footpath signs in the Scottish Borders depicting an adult holding a child’s hand – and a bicycle. The illustration was above this simple message ‘‘Pedestrian Priority, Considerate Cycling Welcomed’’. How about similar signs here as part of efforts to promote the county as ‘‘Walkshire’’?

FINALLY I was pleased to see a horse called Transpennine Star win by a wide-margin 56 lengths this week for racing legend Jonjo O’Neill and his son Jonjo junior. It has more horsepower than many TransPennine Express trains at rush hour. And those pesky Pacers.