Boris Johnson ‘confident’ in Gavin Williamson as education secretary, No 10 says amid calls for him to be sacked

Education secretary working ‘to utmost ability’, says spokesperson

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 06 January 2021 15:32 GMT
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GCSE and A level exams replaced by teacher-assessed grades

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Louise Thomas

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Downing Street has insisted that Boris Johnson remains confident that Gavin Williamson is the best person to run education, despite growing calls for his dismissal after a series of U-turns.

The prime minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said Mr Johnson believes the education secretary has been working “to his utmost ability” and believes the package of measures he has put in place for children unable to attend school during the coronavirus pandemic is the right one.

Ms Stratton played down suggestions that Mr Williamson was a lone voice in cabinet arguing for schools in England to reopen after the Christmas break despite the surge in infections, saying that the prime minister too was “fighting to keep schools open”.

Mr Williamson is understood to have faced opposition from ministers including Matt Hancock and Michael Gove over his determination for children to return to the classroom in January, which led to many primaries opening their doors for a single day before being forced to close by the new lockdown on Monday.

He earlier threatened legal action against London councils which wanted to close a few days early for the festive break as Covid-19 rates rose rapidly in their areas.

And he was today forced to confirm that this summer’s GCSE and A-Level exams will be forced to be cancelled and replaced with a system based on teacher assessments.

The Conservative chair of the Commons Education Committee, Robert Halfon, described the government’s handling of schools as a “huge shambles”.

And his performance was slammed in the Commons today by shadow education secretary Kate Green, who told MPs it was disappointing that he did not make “a New Year’s resolution to avoid U-turns or chronic incompetence”.

 

“Once again where the Secretary of State goes, chaos and confusion follows," said Ms Green. "And it's children, families and education staff across the country who pay the price for his incompetence".

But asked at a Wesminster media briefing whether Mr Johnson remained confident in Mr Williamson as education secretary, Ms Stratton replied: “Yes, he does.”

And asked if he regarded the education secretary as the best person for the job, she said: “Yes”.

She added: “It is a huge brief, and the prime minister believes the education secretary is doing it to his utmost ability.”

Following reports that Mr Williamson’s efforts to keep schools open had been overruled by the health secretary and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Ms Stratton said: "The prime minister was clear that closing schools was an absolute last resort.

“The prime minister was fighting to keep schools open. The prime minister didn’t want to have to close them. He believes the best place for young people is in the class learning, with talented, dedicated teachers in front of them.”

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