Gavin Williamson’s maths doesn’t add up and he runs schools – Tom Richmond

I AM the first to admit that maths was not my specialist subject at school – I was more interested in everyday uses, like calculating the racing odds, than algebra.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

Yet, worryingly, my grasp of basic maths is superior to Gavin Williamson, who just happens to be the Education Secretary.

He’s the Cabinet Minister forced to concede that all primary school pupils will not be returning to lessons before the summer break – yet another U-turn.

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It prompted fears, once again, that a generation of young people from deprived and vulnerable backgrounds will fall so far behind that they will never be able to catch up when it comes to their academic attainment.

Is the Government doing enough to support pupils during the lockdown?

Once you’re behind, as I remember from my maths days, the subject becomes even more of a challenge.

This was taken up by Robert Halfon, who chairs Parliament’s Education Select Committee. Unable to attend the Commons because he suffers from cerebral palsy, he, nevertheless, pointed out that “700,000 disadvantaged children are not doing school homework and 700,000 do not have proper access to computers for the internet”.

Mr Williamson’s response? The Department for Education is “in the process of rolling out IT equipment across the school estate, as well as to the most vulnerable children”. That’s a start – schools first shut in March.

He went on: “Some 100,000 of those laptops have already been distributed to the most vulnerable and most disadvantaged children.” Others disagree, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt – for now.

What more can be done to assist pupils during the lockdown?

And the Education Secretary added: “A further 75,000 computers will be distributed to schools in the coming weeks. We are on schedule to distribute the full 230,000 computers over the coming month.”

Excellent. Now, correct me if I am wrong, but 700,000 – the number of pupils needing assistance – minus 230,000, the Minister’s own figure, leaves 470,000 young people, nearly half a million for the sake of argument, bereft of the education support that they need.

But this appeared lost on Mr Williamson who then went on to say that a long-term strategy was needed to overcome this loss of learning – what has he been doing?

I wasn’t impressed, despite Boris ‘make it up as we go along’ Johnson later saying some sort of plan might be cobbled together next week.

Ministers now risk condemning hundreds of thousands of youngsters to the education and skills scrap heap unless they show a greater command of maths – and competence.

Far from ‘levelling up’ the country, the Government’s stated objective, the social divide will widen still further as most of the affected pupils will be in deprived and disadvantaged ‘red wall’ communities.

As far as I can work out, opening schools now appears to be less urgent than opening theme parks, pub gardens and zoos.

It must make Mr Williamson odds-on favourite – my interest in racing does have its uses – to be culled in the next Cabinet reshuffle, though there will be no shortage of candidates.

But I’ll leave you with the withering assessment made by Meg Hillier who, as chair of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, knows more than most when it comes to politicians manipulating figures to mask failings.

“A decade ago, I sat in a Cabinet Office briefing room discussing the then threatened pandemic. We were discussing the closure of schools then,” she told him on Tuesday.

“So it beggars belief that the Secretary of State can come to the House today with no clear plan for getting the delayed laptops out. That was not planned in advance.”

Mr Williamson indicated dissent, but the fact remains that his policies – and figures – simply don’t add up. If I can work this out with a rudimentary grasp of maths, then why can’t he and his officials?

INTERESTINGLY, a Labour MP made a confession this week that they would not utter in public – they feel sorry for Boris Johnson.

They told me that they felt the PM was clearly struggling with his health and had felt obliged to rush back to work after being left debilitated by Covid-19. They had sympathy for him as a person.

They also thought it was a poor reflection on politics, and quality of Cabinet, that Mr Johnson felt unable to do so. I agree.

MY observations last week about Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Parliament’s voting shambles, prompted the usual unfounded response from those who think Ministers are above criticism – left-wing bias.

I ignored them. Yet I did not go as far as one former Cabinet Minister who said Mr Rees-Mogg had succeeded in making the European Parliament look “great” by comparison.

That person was Haltemprice and Howden MP David Davis, whose views are hardly left-wing.

FINALLY, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the railway industry’s latest performance figures.

According to the UK Office for Rail and Road, 98.3 per trains of trains arrived at their destination on time on April – a rate that was evidently superior to Germany’s Deutsche Bahn.

Now the catch is that only a skeleton service was running due to Covid-19 lockdown. But it does reflect well on Transport Secretary Grant Shapps – imagine if his predecessor Chris Grayling was still in charge at this time – and that increasing capacity is crucial to Britain’s longer-term infrastructure needs.

Including HS2.

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