‘Very concerned’ Gavin Williamson erupts at secondary schools closing ‘far too early’

Gavin Williamson says some schools ‘close too early’

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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he does not want to see schools closing “too early”. Addressing the Education Select Committee, Mr Williamson said: “On average, secondary schools are open for as long on average as primary schools. But in the post-16 environment, actually, the average amount of time spent actually declines.

“We’re the only country in Europe where you see that difference and I think that actually sort of presents some concerns and some worries.”

Sir Kevan Collins – who had recommended that schools should be funded to offer 30 minutes extra every day – quit his role as education recovery commissioner earlier this month, with a condemnation of the Government’s £1.4 billion catch-up fund, which he said fell “far short” of what was needed.

Mr Williamson said it is “with sadness” that catch-up tsar Sir Kevan is not continuing in his role.

He told MPs: “I found working with Sir Kevan a fantastic experience. We’ve actually been able to drive so much forward together, whether that has been on the tutoring or whether that is on the sort of teacher quality elements.

“Of course, it’s with sadness that Sir Kevan isn’t sort of continuing to sort of be able to work as closely as we had been doing.”

It comes as exams in 2022 and subsequent years could be adjusted to take into account the disruption that pupils have faced, the Education Secretary has suggested.

Mr Williamson told MPs that he wants to see students sitting GCSE and A-level exams next year, but there will likely be “adjustments and mitigations” in place to ensure fairness to pupils currently in Years 10 and 12.

He said he does not expect an immediate return to pre-Covid exams as he suggested a package of measures could be used to support the 2022 cohort.

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His comments come after teachers across England have finalised decisions on their pupils’ GCSE and A-level grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.

Mr Williamson told MPs he would “far prefer to see children sitting exams” in 2022, but added: “We very much recognise that we can’t predict what we are going to be facing over the coming years.”

“We’re considering what we need to do to ensure that there’s fairness and there’s the right level of support for pupils,” he told the committee.

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Asked if he expected adjustments to be required next year and possibly in subsequent years, Mr Williamson said: “I very much expect there to be, sort of, adjustments and mitigations to be put in place because I think that those youngsters who currently are in year 10 and year 12 will have obviously suffered disruption as a result of the pandemic, so I think that you don’t have a situation of immediately switching back to the absolute sort of same state of situation as it was back in 2019.”

Teachers have drawn on a range of evidence when determining pupils’ GCSE and A-level grades this summer, including mock exams, coursework, and in-class assessments using questions by exam boards.

A recent survey by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) found that the majority of heads in England want a rebate of at least 75% on exam fees following the cancellation of exams.

Tory MP Jonathan Gullis said a concern raised to him by schools is that they are having to pay the usual fees to exam boards, despite examiners and other staff not having to be hired as part of the process.

Mr Williamson said exam boards are responsible for fees, but he added: “I would be expecting exam boards to be delivering a rebate to schools at the end of this process as they did last year.”

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