If anyone is in need of “discipline and order” it’s Gavin Williamson
The focus should be on the social, emotional and academic disruption young people have been facing. That Gavin Williamson is still in his job is a reflection of Boris Johnson’s poor judgement and a failure of our nation’s children.
It might only be April, but as far as the ‘2021 Award for Lack of Self-Awareness’ goes, we already have a winner: Gavin Williamson. This week, in a slap in the face to parents across the country, the Education Secretary had the audacity to claim that children lacked “discipline and order” during the lockdown.
This is from the Education Secretary whose ‘leadership’ during the pandemic has been so woeful that even readers of Conservative Home have lost confidence in him, delivering consistent sub-zero ratings colder than the Arctic Circle.
As parents, teachers and pupils settle back into the school routine, the last thing they need is a lecture from our shambolic Education Secretary. They don’t need to be told how to do their job by a man who is so clearly incapable of doing his.
Gavin Williamson’s big idea this week is a declaration that mobile phones shouldn’t be used at school. It must have raised eyebrows among head teachers, given that this is the policy of the vast majority of schools already, but at least they can have a laugh at the irony of being lectured on sensible mobile phone use from a man sacked by Theresa May on suspicion of using his to leak sensitive national security briefings.
If Mr Williamson was serious about improving behaviour, he could start by examining the decade of spending cuts that have left class sizes ballooning, teachers facing ever greater workloads and pastoral care woefully underfunded. Rather than engaging in some self-reflection, Mr Williamson has decided yet again to take the easy road and blame parents for the mess his government has caused.
Gavin Williamson might prefer distraction and deflection to the real work of government, but ultimately it’s kids who’ll suffer the consequences of his ineptitude
The truth is this Education Secretary will say anything to distract us from his shambolic record. There was the exams debacle last year when his arbitrary algorithm punished disadvantaged students through no fault of their own. There were three separate occasions when the government had to be dragged into doing the right thing by providing free school meals to kids over the holidays.
Then there was the snail’s paced roll out of laptops and dongles to schools. It took his department a whole year to deliver a million laptops, some of which came preinstalled with viruses, which is still well short of what is needed. The chaos and disorder at the heart of his department culminated in January when schools were opened for one day only, before being closed again.
More recently, Mr Williamson decided to change the way pupil premium funding is allocated to schools, a move which amounts to a stealth cut that will deny schools millions of pounds of much needed funding in the middle of a pandemic. In many schools, this cut will completely wipe out the paltry catch-up funding he has so far promised.
So if anyone is in need of some “discipline and order”, it’s not parents or teachers, but Gavin Williamson and the Department for Education. The return to school, although a huge challenge, is also an opportunity to begin the Covid recovery. We should be focussing now on helping children reach their potential academically, but also addressing the social and emotional disruption young people have been facing.
That is where our focus in the Labour Party is. That is why we have called for breakfast clubs in primary and secondary schools to help pupils recover time with their friends and with their teachers. It’s why we have launched our Bright Futures Taskforce, which will develop a national strategy to ensure all children recover the learning and social development lost during the pandemic and have the chance to reach their full potential.
Gavin Williamson might prefer distraction and deflection to the real work of government, but ultimately it’s kids who’ll suffer the consequences of his ineptitude. Only a Labour government can deliver change needed to ensure that every child has a chance to fulfil their potential. That Gavin Williamson is still in his job is a reflection of Boris Johnson’s poor judgement and a failure of our nation’s children.
Wes Streeting is the Labour MP for Ilford North and shadow schools minister.