Gavin williamson

Gavin Williamson’s new gig

With his Whips’ Office in crisis, how Boris Johnson must be wishing he’d kept Gavin Williamson in government. The former Chief Whip was praised for the political intelligence operation he ran during both the 2016 and 2019 Tory leadership elections when he helped secure victories for Johnson and his predecessor Theresa May. Now though Gavin – or Sir Gavin, as he is reportedly set to become – is left lolling on the backbenches, defending himself against attacks from Labour defectors about the methods he employed while in office. Still, the ex-Education Secretary clearly sees his former brief as his calling, given his desire to educate the public on his work in

No, Gavin Williamson wasn’t the worst education secretary ever

Gavin Williamson was the worst education secretary in history, according to Sam Freedman, a former Tory education adviser. In the wake of Williamson’s departure from the Department for Education, many other commentators are being even less generous. No one has a good word to say about the man. No one except me, that is. I write here in defence of Gavin Williamson. To be utterly clear, my defence is a very narrow one. I am speaking up for Williamson over only a portion of what he did as Education Secretary, and not the largest part either. While a lot of things Gavin Williamson did were indeed dismal, not everything he did was

Alastair Campbell’s Marcus Rashford ‘joke’ backfires

Gavin Williamson has been widely mocked after mixing up footballer Marcus Rashford and rugby player Maro Itoje. But Alastair Campbell’s bid to get in on the joke appears to have backfired in rather spectacular fashion. The New Labour spinner – who now spends his time rallying against Brexit – shared a picture of two black waiters alongside the caption: ‘So happy this day. Marcus Rashford and Maro Itoje were waiting tables at a wedding. There was me thinking they were sportsmen!!’ Oh dear. Campbell also posted a picture on Twitter of himself next to a portrait of Bob Marley with the words: ‘Had a great time at the Marcus Rashford museum in Jamaica

Watch: Gavin Williamson refuses to reveal his A-level results

It’s A-level results day today as students across the country eagerly await their results. But for Gavin Williamson the day began with a morning media round worthy of an F as the education secretary repeatedly refused to tell LBC host Nick Ferrari what he got in his own exams. The South Staffordshire MP seemed to be taking a leaf out of the Partridge playbook as he extolled the virtues of his alma mater Bradford university in the 1990s, laughing and talking over Ferrari as the latter inquired as to whether the matter was in fact a ‘state secret.’ Results day last year was dominated by the fall out from the exams

Don’t blame teachers for this year’s grade inflation

Today’s A level results are unprecedented, but not unexpected. On Friday, Professor Alan Smithers  of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham said, ‘The early signs are that it will be another bumper year for grades.’ He went on to suggest that this might be, ‘justified as compensation for all the disruption suffered’. The impact of Covid-19 on the education of children cannot be dismissed as mere disruption. While adults might now be returning to the office after 18 months working from home, children struggled through two terms of lockdown learning and two more cocooned in bubbles. Grades will be high but they have been

Williamson’s A-level fiasco emails revealed

Earlier this month the columnist Sarah Vine revealed in the Mail on Sunday that education secretary Gavin Williamson had been the recipient of a tearful phone call from a student over last year’s A-level results day fiasco. Now two weeks later Mr S can go a step further in revealing the barrage of critical correspondence Williamson received in the immediate aftermath of the crisis.  Parents, teachers, MPs and pupils bombarded Williamson with emails, obtained via a Freedom of Information request, with one angry grandmother telling the education secretary she had ‘never witnessed such injustice in the education system’ after an algorithm was employed to determine students’ results following the cancellation of summer exams. Others described

Watch: Theresa May roasts Gavin Williamson

While the rest of SW1 was distracted this afternoon by the findings of the Hamilton report, Mr S tuned in to see Theresa May appear before the National Security Strategy Committee. The former PM remains the master of the withering putdown, as poor Gavin Williamson will have discovered to his cost on watching the meeting back.  Former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett inquired as to how Williamson’s alleged leaking (and subsequent sacking) impacted meetings of the National Security Council and May did not hold back. May replied: ‘I think we then got back into the rhythm of people recognising that they could speak as freely as they had done previously.’ Good to

Why aren’t exams going ahead?

When Boris Johnson talked about trusting teachers, I suspected that the government must be desperate. Trust is not a word I have head much in my 25-year teaching career. I am no longer trusted to go into a GCSE exam hall to look at the paper that my class is sitting in case I somehow manage to undermine the integrity of the exam. But that was 2019. This morning Gavin Williamson confirmed that this year, it will come down to me and my colleagues in school. There will be no exam papers, no external markers, and certainly no algorithms. Before the pandemic we weren’t even trusted to mark coursework for

Prepare for the next A-level fiasco

When I was at school, the best grade you could hope to achieve on your termly report card was A5, with A being the highest grade for attainment, and 5 being the lowest grade for effort. I expect there will be a lot more students hoping for, and outright expecting, their own A5s this summer.  In light of the news that GCSEs and A-levels exams will be cancelled this year, Ofqual has now confirmed that grades will be decided by teachers. Schools can use mock exams, coursework and essays, or assessments set by exam boards, but these are optional, will not be taken in exam conditions, nor decide final grades. Make no mistake:

The cost of school closures

How can ministers stop one of the worst legacies of the pandemic being a generation of children left behind after a year out of the classroom? This week, when Boris Johnson confirmed 8 March as the earliest schools will return, he also announced money to help pupils catch up and a long-term plan for education. There’s a glimpse of the scale of the task facing the government as it develops a long-term plan in this report from the Education Endowment Foundation, which found not only a significant fall in attainment for primary age pupils as a result of the disruption to the school year, but also a ‘large and concerning

Why is Labour calling on Gavin Williamson to resign?

Why has Labour chosen today to call for Gavin Williamson to resign as Education Secretary? This morning, shadow education secretary Kate Green released a statement saying ‘it is time for Gavin Williamson to go’, arguing that his ‘record throughout this pandemic has been shambolic’ and ‘he has bounced from one crisis to another without learning from his mistakes or listening to the parents, pupils and hard-working education staff who have been left to deal with the fallout’. It is unlikely that he will stay in the job when Boris Johnson carries out his next reshuffle It’s true that Williamson has had probably the worst pandemic out of any minister and

Gavin Williamson licks his wounds in the Commons

Of all the government ministries grappling with the impact of the pandemic, the Department for Education has probably had the most torrid – and least impressive – time. There is currently no sign that things are improving, either: in the past week, ministers have had to deal with a highly politically-toxic row over the quality of free school meals for children during lockdown. That row formed the backdrop to today’s education questions in the Commons, where Gavin Williamson and his colleagues were very visibly licking their wounds. Williamson was accused – as he is every time he appears in the Chamber – of being ‘incompetent’, with Labour’s Kate Green complaining that

Why Williamson’s u-turn won’t affect all GCSE students

The future became more uncertain for hundreds of thousands of youngsters this week when Gavin Williamson cancelled their GCSE exams. But pupils at some of Britain’s top public schools were affected less than their contemporaries in state maintained schools. Why? Because what Williamson did not talk about when he cancelled exams were International GCSEs. Broadly equivalent to domestic exams, and offered by the same exam boards, they are marketed worldwide and, unlike GCSEs, look set to go ahead this summer. Britain’s educational divide has always been fairly stark. And this decision could further widen that gap between rich and poor pupils. As a teacher, I was pleased to hear Williamson tell

Cancelling exams shows Boris has failed to learn his lesson

‘Don’t worry, they won’t cancel exams again,’ I confidently assured my fifteen-year-old middle son shortly before Christmas. He was sitting his mock GCSEs, and fretting over how much they might matter, admitting: ‘I haven’t done enough work.’ Only a month ago, education secretary Gavin Williamson gave a ‘cast-iron guarantee’ exams would ‘absolutely’ go ahead in England. It seemed clear he and Boris Johnson had learnt their lesson. They’d not be so foolish as to do the same thing over again: pull exams without a proper plan of what to do instead. More fool me. For my family – and for plenty of others in a similar position – it’s once bitten, twice shy.

Can Gavin Williamson limit the impact of school closures?

It is much harder being an embattled minister in the socially distanced Commons than in normal times. There is no group of supportive MPs to arrange behind you, no ability to organise sympathetic noises from the backbenches as you give your statement explaining why you’ve taken a last-minute decision to close all schools when you said you wouldn’t and had been threatening councils who were trying to do so just before Christmas with legal action, and why you’ve spent the past few weeks insisting that exams would go ahead in the summer, only to cancel them this week too. On this charge sheet, Gavin Williamson would have struggled in any


Watch: Gavin Williamson’s schools opening gaffe

Oh dear. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has not exactly been at the top of his game in recent weeks. Across the country teachers, children and parents have been thrown into turmoil by the government’s haphazard education plans, which have seen schools open up for a single day, and national exams cancelled, despite the Education Secretary’s insistence they would ‘absolutely’ go ahead. Still, Mr S hoped that Williamson would at least be clear in his mind about getting schools back open once again. Unfortunately, the minister seemed to rather struggle with that message when in Parliament today. In a statement, Williamson instead insisted that: ‘I can absolutely assure the honourable lady,

Gavin Williamson is the least convincing education secretary ever

It was Michael Gove who declared today that the Government was closing schools with the ‘heaviest of hearts’ and confirmed that A levels and GCSEs were off. Where, you wondered, was Gavin Williamson, the actual Education Secretary? Busy, no doubt, preparing for his own announcement on Wednesday, which, on the basis of his previous record, will reassure no one. Personally, I think the decision to cancel exams is really bad. I can’t remember whether it was Einstein we credit with that quote about repeating the same thing and expecting a different outcome being the quintessence of stupidity, but it pretty well sums up the situation here.  Last summer, some schools

The unending confusion at the Department for Education

It used to be the case that the only things that were certain in life were death and taxes. To that list we can now add unending turmoil and confusion at the Department for Education. Today Gavin Williamson U-turned on the government’s previous pledge to keep schools open, announcing that a number of schools in Covid ‘hotspots’ would not be going back as planned next week. Primaries in some areas – including a slightly random patchwork of London boroughs – will not reopen next week. Those in lower tiers and some Tier 4 areas will start term as planned. The following week, years 11 and 13 will return to secondary

Gavin Williamson escapes a public dressing down from Tory MPs

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

The forgotten victims of the deflated A-level grades

A few weeks ago, I spoke on The Spectator’s podcast about my A-Level results. My story in short: I lost my dream place at UCL to study medicine (my conditional offer was: A*AA) after being downgraded by the algorithm to AABB. As the daughter of a single mother, in a low income household, I’m not exactly the sort of person expected to score top grades (especially not by the now-defunct algorithm). However, with a run of 9s and A*s in my GCSEs, I proved I could beat the odds once, and, had I sat the 2020 exams, I am confident I would have beaten the odds again. But the virus