Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has “got a lot wrong” and should take “final accountability” for the actions of his department in the pandemic, the former head of Ofsted has said.
Sir Michael Wilshaw said headteachers in England lacked confidence in the leadership they were receiving from the Department for Education (DfE).
He said they had even considered taking legal action over the planned reopening of primary schools in England because Mr Williamson had ignored their concerns over safety.
“He (Mr Williamson) has got a lot wrong up to now, hasn’t he,” Sir Michael told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One.
Asked if Mr Williamson should resign, Sir Michael said: “He gets other people to resign – permanent secretaries and the head of Ofqual.”
His comments were a reference to the resignations the most senior civil servant at the DfE, Jonathan Salter, and the chief executive of the exams regulator, Sally Collier, over the summer in the wake of the GCSE and A-level fiasco in England.
He added: “He has got to take final accountability for what has gone on. Ministers don’t tend to resign for mistakes they have made now in the way that they did before.”
Sir Michael said Mr Williamson’s attitude had driven headteachers to the point where they were considering legal action after ministers insisted it was safe for primary schools to return following the Christmas break – only to make a dramatic U-turn on Monday.
“These are not radical, militant people and yet they were considering – before the recent announcement – taking legal action against the Government because they weren’t being listened to by the Education Secretary,” he said.
“That was my understanding – that the Government was demanding that schools remain open and yet all the evidence the headteacher associations were getting was that it was dangerous to do so and (they) were considering legal action against the Department for Education.”
Sir Michael said he did not think the Department for Education was being well led at the present time.
“If you talk to headteachers – I talk to them regularly as an ex-head – they lack confidence in leadership that they are receiving.”
GCSE and A-levels cancelled
This summer’s GCSE and A-level exams in England have been cancelled.
Exams regulator Ofqual and the Department for Education (DfE) will work together to consider how to grade pupils in a way that reflects their hard work, the department said.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is due to outline to MPs on Wednesday a package of support for young people following the closure of schools and college to all but vulnerable children and those of key workers.
Ahead of the statement in the Commons, the DfE said it recognises this is “an anxious time for students who have been working hard towards their exams”.
It added: “The Government position is that we will not be asking students to sit GCSE and A-levels.
“Working alongside Ofqual, the department will consult on how to award all pupils a grade that reflects the hard work they’ve done and will continue to do.”
In a televised address on Monday announcing England’s third national lockdown, Boris Johnson acknowledged that shutting schools meant “it’s not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer, as normal”.
In a statement, Mr Williamson said: “It is now vital that we support our young people at home, including making sure all students are receiving the best possible remote education, and that those students who were due to take exams can still progress to their next stage of education or training.”
Cancelling all exams this summer would be “premature”, the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) – which represents almost 300 leading private schools, said.
The organisation’s general secretary Dr Simon Hyde said: “Whilst it is important that the learning loss which some students have experienced is accounted for, and that disadvantaged pupils are not further disadvantaged, HMC believes that any decision to cancel all exams in England this summer would be premature.”