Gavin Williamson Claims No One Could Have Predicted Schools Would Have To Close In January
The Education Secretary has defended his handling of school closures
Gavin Williamson has promised that teachers and parents will get two-weeks notice before schools reopen after claiming no one could have predicted their closure earlier this month.
The Education Secretary has defended his repeated U-turns on school closures as he blamed the changing nature of the pandemic for having to make "swift decisions".
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Williamson said: "We are dealing with a global pandemic and actually if you go back a month, if you had asked me if I expected we'd be in a position where all schools were closed right across the country, I wouldn't have expected to have been doing that and nor would anybody else.
"This wasn't something we wanted to see, we have always said and always have done everything we can to protect education, make sure schools stay open. My focus has, and always will be, on delivery the very best."
Despite repeated calls from unions, scientists and opposition MPs to consider closing schools, Mr Williamson had pressed ahead with his plans before making the decision to shut them again just hours after pupils return for their first day.
The strategy was roundly criticised by Labour who have called for Mr Williamson to resign over his handling of the education system since the pandemic began.
But Mr Williamson hit back, saying his decision had been guided by new data which showed soaring infection rates triggered by the UK variant of the coronavirus.
The Cabinet minister added: "It is really interesting for politicians and journalists to talk about their future careers as politicians, my real focus is to make sure children get back into school at the earliest possible opportunity.
"We are not just talking about the 50% of students that go off to university, but also the other 50% that need to have the skills and jobs they need for the future. That is what we are focussing on.
"We want to bring all schools back, all pupils back into those schools at the earliest possible moment, and that is the focus.
"But yes, we have had to make swift decisions on many issues, decisions that sometimes we didn't expect to be having to make, but that is one of the consequences of dealing with a global pandemic."
Mr Williamson also said that parents and teachers would be given two weeks notice before schools reopen in order to help them prepare for the return of pupils.
"What we will be wanting to do is to give schools as much notice as possible so teachers can get ready, children can prepare, and parents know in order to manage their lives," he told BBC Breakfast.
"We would want to give all schools a clear two weeks' notice period in order to be able to ready themselves."
Meanwhile, Mr Williamson said he wanted teachers and support staff to be given early access to the vaccine, saying he would "very much like to see" them offered the jab once the priority groups had been vaccinated.
Earlier this year, Boris Johnson said it was his ambition that schools might be able to reopen after the February half-term, by Mr Williamson refused to give a date for when pupils may return, saying the government were continuing to study infection data.
It comes after England's deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries suggested that schools may open in a staggered way across the country as lockdown restrictions are eased.
Mr Williamson added: "One of the key criteria is whether the pressure on the NHS has started to lift, that is why we had to take the national decision, very much in the national interest, one that I personally never would have wanted to take to see schools closed again.
"We had to make that decision because of the pressure on the NHS and needing to reduce movement in society and in communities.
"But schools were the last to close, school will very much be the first to open."