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Editorial: Williamson's serial incompetence makes him the idea candidate to take the blame

THE media appear divided over who in government is most culpable for the latest schools cock-up.

The Metro headline — “It’s an F for failed Gavin” – tells us that the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is left in limbo as the measly £1.4 billion allocated for the education “catch up” programme for our children whose education has been blighted by the Covid-19 crisis is seen as woefully insufficient.

The government’s adviser Sir Kevan Collins concluded that £15bn is needed for a basic programme of remedial education. When his advice was spurned, he acted on principle and resigned.

The Murdoch-owned Times put the blame on Boris Johnson, and it buttressed its front page lead with a feature by Sir Kevan himself.

Sir Kevan told The Times readers that he had “no option” but to resign after the premier rejected his proposals. The money offered by the government is “too narrow, too small and will be delivered too slowly” he wrote.

The Daily Mirror also put the blame on Johnson, quoting Sir Kevan that the botched programme “risks failing hundreds of thousands of pupils.”

The Financial Times took a different tack. Given its more select readership of finance-sector professionals and big business types, the daily organ of the propertied classes saw no need to obscure political reality and reported that: “Schooling catch-up tsar resigns after Sunak rejects £15bn funding proposal.”

In summary: Williamson is incompetent, Johnson is complicit and Sunak is the one in whose gift the catch-up chances of our children resides.

The querulous Education Secretary Williamson — previously a spectacularly juvenile defence secretary notorious for his cowardly refusal to be interviewed — has been secure in his successive offices only because his serial incompetence makes him the ideal lightning rod to take the blame for the manifest failures of the entire government.

The gormless one will eventually be sacrificed unless the Health Secretary Matt Hancock is elevated to the role of first sacrificial offering.

The umbilical cord which ties Johnson to the Chancellor — his chief ally and principal rival — meant that both the Treasury team and Number 10 went into damage limitation mode with Sunak’s team scratching around for another billion pounds or so but the core of the problem for the government is that its reputation for incompetence is increasingly hardwired into the understanding of both media and public.

Because Britain’s education system is the almost perfect expression of the class contradictions which inhibit the rational development of our society, education policy is always at the centre of problems which appear impossible to resolve.

There is a clear need for a well-invested, comprehensive system of education and training which provides for the fullest development of the potential of every child and equips the nation with a workforce qualified to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Instead, we have a class-divided system in which nearly one in 10 are educated in a private pool of privilege while the vast majority of our children are educated in a sector where fragmentation, under funding, partial privatisation and a succession of botched “reforms” has reversed the progress made in the post-war decades.

When the National Education Union says the government’s flawed “catch up” scheme is too complicated for schools to use effectively, relies too heavily on private providers of tuition whose quality is not assured and is insufficiently controlled by school leaders it should be heeded.

Better if schools are given increased staffing budgets to employ additional qualified teaching staff to support individualised and small group tuition for pupils who need it when they return to school and college. Better to build on the expertise that is already there.

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