WEEK 2 - Friday 17 September 2021
“Nadhim Zahawi is the new Education Secretary. Well he can’t be any worse can he?” read the text that my wife sent to me on Wednesday afternoon following the Cabinet reshuffle.
If your main qualification for a top cabinet post is that you’re not as bad as the previous incumbent it shows just how far our expectations of political leadership have fallen in recent years. To be fair to Mr Zahawi, I do not know much about him except that he seems to have done a good job with the vaccine rollout, to the extent that it is actually his responsibility, that is. Anyway, it is good to see the back of Gavin Williamson, that’s for sure.
Whilst some will argue that Michael Gove was less popular with the sector, you could not accuse Gove of lacking ambition and he presided over some of the most radical changes in decades during his four years in charge. It will take some time for the verdict to be reached on whether they were worth the wholescale disruption they caused but, in the case of Williamson, the verdict is already in. He was a shocker.
Just consider some of the things that we have to contend with as a consequence of the shambolic functioning of the DfE over the past few years:
- At the start of the pandemic, there was a total absence of direction on the subject of home teaching resulting in long delays to the delivery of laptops and devices
- U-turns on the provision of free school meals for children during the holidays
- In June 2020, promising parents that primary schools would reopen with half class sizes and then realising that we would need twice as many classrooms to accommodate them
- The utter fiasco of the summer 2020 exam grading process
- In December 2020, threatening legal action on schools which closed early to keep their children safe
- On the last day before the Christmas break, announcing that schools would be carrying out tests on site by the start of January but providing no guidance on how it would happen. The tests didn’t take place until March
- Insisting on the last day of the Christmas holidays that schools were safe to reopen but then closing them all after one day
- Long delays before information was revealed about the exam grading system for summer 2021
I share this reminder of what has gone on just to emphasise what a remarkable job has been done by everyone else except the Department that is supposed to lead our sector. In the absence of clear leadership, schools, students and parents have instead stepped up and just got on with it ourselves. We have tolerated the confusion and the U-turns and done what is best for our young people. When we look back on the pandemic and the impact on schools, we will not remember Gavin Williamson but will reflect on the work that we all did to keep things going.
As we reach the end of the second week, we are working hard to ensure that students have the very best experience of the school site. There have been many changes for students to contend with as we have relaxed our covid measures, whilst simultaneously coping with more students on site and a new firm of caterers. This has caused some problems and there have been occasions when some students have not been able to access their preferred choice of food. I apologise that this is the case and can assure you that we are doing our best to make things run as smoothly as possible. Our caterers are monitoring the take up of menu items and we have made some adjustments to the flow of students around the site. Thank you for your support and we continue to thank our students for their excellent behaviour and resilience.
Finally, today I wrote to all parents with a statement making clear our position on the vaccine rollout for 12-15 year olds. This statement has been written collectively by our Trust and Headteachers and makes clear the role that schools will play in the vaccine programme. If you haven’t seen it yet, it can be found here.
Mr V Groak