How Gavin Williamson failed latest A-level test and lost all remaining trust – Tom Richmond

BORIS Johnson sacked the top official at the Department for Education this week, saying it was time for “fresh official leadership”.

How is Education Secretary Gavin Williamson still in his job?

Jonathan Slater’s departure came shortly after Ofqual chief executive Sally Collier resigned over the A-level and GCSE exams debacle.

I hope both will still give evidence to next week’s Education Select Committee inquiry into the awarding of grades and – to quote the Prime Minister – that “mutant algorithm”.

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It’s also vital that teachers and students know where they stand before the new academic year begins – how much of the curriculum will be feasible and how will their work be assessed?

A-level students protest outside the constituency office of Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

But, rather than scapegoating officials, Johnson must now show some belated leadership and sack Education Secretary Gavin Williamson so a fresh start can be made.

This much was clear after Williamson’s latest interview on Radio Four’s Today programme – I, and others, now struggle to trust a single word that he utters.

It began with the latest U-turn – this time on the wearing of face masks in schools. “At every stage we always listen to the best scientific and medical advice,” he said.

Williamson then ignored a question about the views of Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, who had said 48 hours previously that evidence about the need for over-12s to wear face masks was “not strong”.

Students express their disquiet in Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary.

Told that headteachers were “dizzy” from the frequency of Government U-turns, the Minister said: “We set out really clear guidance in early July.” If 
it was that clear, why the confusion 
now?

Williamson was no clearer when responding to a senior Tory MP’s call for “the firm smack of government” to 
spread the message that “schools are safe”. “That is why we have been absolutely clear...” whittered Williamson. If you had been, backbenchers would not be mutinous.

Told it had been “a torrid time”, he was then asked if he expected to still be in his job in a year’s time. Not only did Williamson dodge the question – “I love the job, I have one of the very, very best jobs in government” – but there was no apology for the angst that he has caused.

It was then put to Williamson that “an awful lot” of his own MPs do not share his confidence. He responded by talking about education’s amazing ability to transform lives and his upbringing in, I’m ashamed to say, Yorkshire.

Finally, Williamson was asked about Ofqual’s algorithm and whether he had pressed the exam regulator to see if it would “adversely affect poorer children”. “At every stage... fairness had to be at the heart of it,” he obfuscated.

The presenter persisted – did the Minister ask how the model would “affect poorer children”? He said that he did so. Yet, when pressed to see if he was satisfied by any assurances given, he started talking about the difficulties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over exams.

Having then intimated that Ofqual, and not the DfE was to blame, Williamson was then asked why he had not sought resignations earlier? His unease was again discernible.

And when the issue of an independent inquiry was raised at the end, to ensure “children are not treated again like this”, Williamson said other measures were being considered.

Evasive, insincere and disingenuous, a student would expect a Grade U if they performed in an exam and failed to answer so many basic – and fundamental – questions.

Why, therefore, should we continue to trust Gavin Williamson with the education of the next generation when his primary preoccupation appears to be saving his own job at whatever cost? I despair.

GAVIN Wiliamson’s political disasters do – for now – take the heat off Matt Hancock, the Health and Social Care Secretary. Those two words – for now – are key and pertain to social care and staff shortages in this sector.

Yet some interesting feedback from an acquaintance whose daughter, who is studying medicine, has been working in a care home during Covid. They commented on what a positive experience it has been. They also saw how the most basic of personal care is critical to good medicine.

And, because she got to know the patients better than she would on a temporary ward, she has seen them more as human beings who need special care and attention. Now appreciative that basic care is as important as sophisticated medical interventions, they’re valid points that Ministers should take on board.

IMITATION, they say, is still the sincerest form of flattery – hence why I spotted Tony Blair’s autobiography in a prominent position on the bookshelf of Damian Hinds when the former Education Secretary was interviewed by Channel Four News.

What I do know, however, is that schools policy should not be a political football; there should be far more cross-party co-operation, but I fear this is a forlorn hope when Parliament is so polarised.

TALKING of Tony Blair, he was still Prime Minister when Jimmy Anderson took the first of his 600 Test wickets.

A measure of Anderson’s longevity, the Education Secretary back in May 2003 was Charles Clarke – he had replaced Estelle Morris after she resigned because she believed she was not up to the job.

A rare honourable resignation – take note Gavin Williamson – there have been significantly more Education Secretaries than England cricket captains in the past 17 years. On that, I’m stumped.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson

Editor