Teaching union chief likens Gavin Williamson to Pinocchio and condemns exams ‘lie’

Education secretary has proved ‘limp and spineless’ throughout pandemic, says NEU head

Liam James
Thursday 08 April 2021 23:44
Teaching union chief likens Gavin Williamson to Pinnochio for being 'wooden-headed', 'limp' and 'spineless'

A union chief has attacked Gavin Williamson over his handling of education throughout the pandemic so far.

Robin Bevan, the president of the National Education Union (NEU), likened the Education Secretary to the fictional character of Pinocchio on account of his political decisions over the past year.

In a speech to the NEU's virtual annual conference, Mr Bevan also accused the minister of repeating a "lie" that exams are the best form of assessment.

He said: "Throughout recent months we have seen that the Secretary of State is indeed wooden-headed, is indeed a puppet, is limp and spineless."

He criticised the Education Secretary for threatening to take legal action against Greenwich council if it closed schools before the end of Christmas term, despite a Covid surge across Greater London.

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The NEU chief, who is head of Southend High School for Boys in Essex, also condemned Mr Williamson for telling parents in January they could report schools to Ofsted if they were unhappy with their child's remote learning provision just days after schools were told they had to close.

Mr Bevan added: "Pinocchio of course also has that characteristic of the nose that grows with every lie that is told and there is one lie that really must be challenged, repeated over and over again by our Secretary of State.

"The lie that exams are the best and fairest way for young people to show what they know and can do.

"And here, I'm not talking about his incessant and unrelenting desire to see exams take place this year.

"I'm talking generally.

"It takes a particular level of ignorance to make that statement."

Teachers in England will decide pupils' GCSE and A-level grades this summer after exams were cancelled for the second year in a row amid the pandemic.

The changes to assessment have triggered calls across the sector for GCSEs to be reformed post-Covid but Mr Williamson said the government was going to keep GCSEs, adding that exams will be here "for an awful lot longer".

Addressing the conference on Thursday, Mr Bevan called for a "rethink" on assessment, arguing that not everything can be best assessed in an examination under timed conditions, where he said there are also "issues of reliability".

He called for "high quality assessment” which he said would produce fairer and more accurate results.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Throughout the pandemic, the Education Secretary has put the safety of staff and pupils at the core of all decision making and has ensured schools and colleges have been fully open wherever possible, based on the best available scientific and medical advice.

"The course of the pandemic has led to swift decisions being taken to respond to changes in our understanding of the virus and action has had to be taken in the national interest."

She added: "We have made clear that exams are the fairest way to assess pupils, and our reformed GCSEs rigorously assess their knowledge while preparing young people leaving school or college for the workplace or higher study."

Additional reporting by PA

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