‘We care about evidence!’ Gavin Williamson slaps down Labour MP in fiery Commons row

Gavin Williamson shuts down Toby Perkins over education

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Shadow education minister Toby Perkins accused Mr Williamson of “showing a complete lack of leadership” during the pandemic. He said: “Most listening to the Secretary of State’s answers in this session so far will fear previous failures being repeated. He talks about a targeted approach but in next breath says it’s up to teachers to decide where those budgets are targeted.

“Once again we’ve got the Secretary of State showing a complete lack of leadership which leads to funds being unspent and his initiatives failing.

“We’ve seen this on exams, we’ve seen it on testing, we’ve seen it on school returns, we’ve seen it on university student wellbeing, we’ve seen it on Btecs.

“What we need is a secretary of state capable of providing both the clarity, the leadership and the ambition required to support a generation of schoolchildren and if he can’t, will he please step aside and let’s get a secretary of state who can.”

Mr Williamson replied: “Well, it’s a very well read question by the right honourable gentleman.

“We on this side of the House understand that teachers will have acute understanding of those children who have suffered most as a result of being out of a classroom.

“We’ve understood that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are most helped by small group tuition and actually by creating the national tutoring programme, a specifically targeted programme, all the evidence goes to point out the simple fact that actually by doing this approach you have the biggest impact in terms of helping children catch up with lost learning.

“The honourable gentleman probably has little regard for facts or evidence.

“That’s evident by how the Labour Party came up with their last manifesto but we do care about evidence.”

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A Conservative MP went on to say ministers risk creating “mask anarchy” unless regulations on face coverings in schools are made clearer.

Robert Halfon, who chairs the Education Select Committee, insisted “definitive regulations” must be put in place on whether students should wear face coverings.

Teachers are being put under “enormous pressure” because of the current confusion, Mr Halfon added.

MPs also heard many teachers are “worried” about a full return of schools, with some opposition MPs pressing the Government to adopt a phased return in England.


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With schools set to reopen in England on March 8, only secondary school students are being advised to wear masks when social distancing cannot be maintained.

Mr Halfon told the Commons: “Given that the schools minister (Nick Gibb) said that the wearing of masks by pupils on the school estate is advisory guidance, if a pupil or a parent on behalf of a pupil objects to comply with the wishes of a head teacher to wear a mask, are we not in danger of creating mask anarchy?

“Enormous pressure is being put on head teachers in Harlow because of the confusion, like Vic Goddard, head teacher of Harlow Passmores School.

“Is it not better to come down firmly on one side or another and provide clearly definitive regulations to help teaching staff?”

Mr Gibb responded: “Well we said very clearly that we strongly recommend students in secondary schools to wear face coverings in classrooms where it’s not possible to keep social distances between pupils.

“And we’ve also said for quite a number of months that where in communal areas of a school it’s not possible to maintain social distance, then staff and adults and students in secondary schools should also wear face masks.”

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