Why Gavin Williamson schools catch-up plan is a year too late – Tom Richmond

HOW times change. When I was at school, I recall classmates falling behind with their studies to effectively sit the year again until they reached the requisite standard of attainment. This ‘tough love’ was hard to watch.

Gavin Williamson, speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday.

Yet what happens when the guilty individual is none other than Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, who is supposed to set an example? He’s left in charge of the reopening of schools with Boris Johnson’s blessing.

I thought of these rank double standards when watching Williamson outlining catch-up plans for students, and failing to answer questions, on education policy when entrusted with Downing Street’s Covid press conference this week.

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Where will the teachers – exhausted by a year of online lessons and all the challenges that they entail – be found from? It will be down the schools, says Williamson, whose sole qualification appears to be buck-passing.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meeting teachers in the library during a visit to Sedgehill School in Lewisham, south east London, to see preparations for students returning to school.

What about the work of Sir Kevan Jones, the newly-appointed Education Recovery Commissioner? Williamson says he’s only been in post for a couple of weeks so give him time (which we don’t have).

And what about other policies so a year of lost learning does not compromise students in later life? These, says Williamson, will have to be “assessed, evidence-based and we will track the outcomes”. In short, there’s no plan.

Now there will be some people who say now is not the time to be unduly harsh on Ministers, even bottom of the class performers like Williamson, and more pressure should be applied to the more obstructive teaching unions.

Yet this does not excuse the Department for Education’s leadership void throughout this crisis and the U-turns that have led to 96 per cent of teachers losing trust in the ministry. Williamson had no answer to that statistic.

Boris Johnson says helping pupils catch up on lost learning is the biggest challenge to face the country.

Nor does it justify Williamson’s haphazardness and hesitancy – the worst of all double whammies – when, hours earlier, Boris Johnson had conceded at Prime Minister’s Questions that this is “the biggest challenge our country faces”.

The PM is certainly right – the focus will shift to education and employment as the economy moves to the recovery phase following the success of the Covid vaccine rollout.

But he now needs to be straight with the country over this question where a simple ‘yes/no’ answer will suffice – does he believe Gavin Williamson is the best qualified person to lead the DfE at this time?

The response will be revealing. For, if the PM responds in the affirmative, he will be admitting that he, too, is out of touch with the crisis in our classrooms (physical and online). And, if he says ‘no’, he needs to demote Williamson – just like my contemporaries of yesteryear.

After all, the dilemma about how to help students catch up on their learning should have been resolved last summer. Not this summer – or even, if Gavin Williamson gets his way, next year.

MUCH debate is taking place about so-called Covid passports. Some say they’re a necessary safeguard for the travel and hospitality sectors; others have civil liberty concerns and fear they could be a precursor to ID cards.

Yet, as Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove begins to explore options, I do wonder whether the Government is over-complicating matters.

When people hire cars, they have to provide a check code from the DVLA which confirms their status – and eligibility – for driving. Applicants simply have to provide their driving licence number, NI details and postcode.

Why can’t individuals use their NHS number – and National Insurance information – to obtain a Covid vaccine passport that can be used when preparing to travel for example?

It’s just an idea in the hope that the Government can find a way to keep things simple at a time when the primary focus is still the suppression of Covid.

DAME Eleanor Laing, the Deputy Speaker, admonished a Tory MP for trying to take part in an online debate while wearing a sweater rather than a suit and tie.

She’s a stickler for standards, perhaps a bit over-fussy on occasions, because she genuinely cares. Yet what concerns me is the lack of genuine scrutiny of legislation under Parliament’s current arrangements.

And it is unfathomable that a way cannot be found to hold backbench debates on key local and regional issues. Like who is telling the truth over transport funding here – Boris Johnson or Transport for the North.

LIKE you, I’m fed up of the incessant phone calls from mobile phone providers like Virgin Media outlining offers which, at face value, appear too good to be true.

Yet, even after checking the legitimacy of the call by quickly checking the number on the internet, I’m still surprised that firms like Virgin are then so reluctant to send an email outlining the details of the deal and contractual obligations. One for a consumer champion if there’s one out there.

I SEE Olympic gold medal-winning track cyclist Callum Skinner is helping develop specialist glasses that give cyclists eyes in the back of their heads.

The super sunglasses allow cyclists to see forwards and backwards by shifting focus rather than having to turn their heads by using two-part angled lenses with semi-transparent mirrors.

All very good – but perhaps he could persuade some of the more reckless cyclists to keep a better eye on the road in front of them and stop darting through red traffic lights as they head off to the Dales on what appears to be day-long lockdown ride.

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