Isabel Hardman

Gavin Williamson escapes a public dressing down from Tory MPs

Gavin Williamson escapes a public dressing down from Tory MPs
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson arrives at a Cabinet meeting on Parliament's first day back, picture: Getty
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Gavin Williamson rather generously did the sketch writers' jobs for them this afternoon when he failed to hand his homework in on time for his first day of term. The Education Secretary gave a statement in the Commons on schools reopening – and ended up being scolded by opposition MPs for sending a very late 'advance' copy of his words, as is custom. The SNP's Carol Monaghan rather acidly remarked that she just about had time to read it before asking her question, while Labour's shadow education secretary Kate Green complained of a 'summer of chaos, incompetence and confusion that has caused enormous stress' to pupils, parents and teachers. Williamson's apology for his late statement had the air of a pupil genuinely sorry he'd been caught out.

But as dressing downs go, this wasn't particularly bruising for Williamson. Many Tory MPs are annoyed by his handling of the exams fiasco and the constant chopping and changing of what schools need to do to keep pupils safe. But they largely stayed away, and instead colleagues made a number of constructive suggestions on extending the school day, offering catch-up help to pupils and assessing children to see just how far they've fallen behind.

That last idea came from Robert Halfon, the chair of the Education Select Committee, who argued that 'the way forward should be an urgent assessment or benchmarking made of all children in school with data collected by the Department for Education and regulators, so as to inform the government's decision as to when the exams are to take place next year'. Williamson agreed, saying it was 'something we're looking at' so that ministers and teachers could understand what learning gaps children had. He also pointed out to Kate Green that he had already asked Ofqual to consider moving next year's school exams back to take account of this learning gap.

This is not to say that Tory MPs are happy. But No.10 has rather wisely diverted their anger into a private session with Williamson this evening, rather than allowing it to spill out in the Commons chamber.

Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

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