Independent watchdog must lead new 'Covid-19 catch up' strategy in schools, Labour urges

Demand for 'cast-iron guarantee' that lost learning will be recovered – but with expert oversight of under-fire Gavin Williamson

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 02 September 2020 22:52
Labour believes the education secretary 'can’t be trusted' to oversee a new schools' strategy
Labour believes the education secretary 'can’t be trusted' to oversee a new schools' strategy

An independent watchdog must lead a new “Covid-19 catch up” strategy in schools, Labour says, after fresh criticism of Gavin Williamson over the exams fiasco.

Boris Johnson is told to give a “cast-iron guarantee” that every pupil can recover the learning lost since schools closed in March – but not to put the under-fire education secretary in charge.

Instead, the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, should oversee the ‘Close the Gap’ strategy, the party said, to “hold the government to account on their progress”.

Ministers should also face a new legal duty to publish data on the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils – and drop plans to exclude post-16 students from promised catch-up support.

“Parents need a cast-iron guarantee that any child who has fallen behind will get the support they need to catch up,” said Kate Green, the shadow education secretary.

“We need independent oversight and transparency, to compare the gap between pupils in different parts of the country and against the pre-Covid generation.

“The last six months have been incredibly difficult for children and families across the country. No child should be left behind because of this crisis or government incompetence.”

The call comes after the spotlight again fell on Mr Williamson, after explosive evidence given by the exams regulator Ofqual, at the start of an inquiry by the Commons education committee.

Roger Taylor, its chair, revealed the education secretary decided – without consultation – to axe A-level and GCSE exams – against the regulator’s wishes.

Ofqual wanted exams to go ahead, with its second choice to delay exams and a third option of awarding a “teacher certificate”, all rejected in favour of using the now-infamous algorithm.

Mr Taylor told MPs that believing that using an algorithm to allocate grades would be acceptable to the public was a “fundamental mistake”.

And he said Mr Williamson’s office agreed new guidance on appeals that provoked uproar – and which was then withdrawn when he decided he no longer supported it.

A Labour source said the education secretary – kept in post by the prime minister, despite widespread calls for him to be sacked – “can’t be trusted” to oversee a new strategy.

Its call comes after the National Foundation for Educational Research warned pupils are, on average, three months behind where they would be without the school closures.

A separate study by the Education Endowment Fund suggested school closures may have widened the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates by up to 75 per cent.

Labour warned that the government’s £350m national tutoring programme would not be fully operational until next Spring, and that tutors will not be in place until November, eight months after schools were shut.

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