education

Williamson attacks schools amid criticism of education catch-up plan


The education secretary has accused schools of cutting short lunch breaks and sending children home early as he came under sustained fire from opposition MPs angry about the government’s “disappointing” education recovery package.

In a tricky hour-long defence of the additional £1.4bn catch-up funding offer, which caused uproar when it was announced last week, Williamson attempted to placate his critics promising that more was to come including a review of the length of the school day to maximise on catch-up.

But in an attempt to deflect criticism, he told MPs in a statement to the Commons that schools already have the power to set their hours, and questioned whether it was justifiable that some children were sent home at 2.45pm when others remain in classes far longer.

He also accused some schools of “restricting” what children can do in their lunch breaks and told MPs: “As we move forward over the next few months, there are significant challenges as we talk about the school day.

“We’ve seen too many schools go down a route of actually restricting what children have the benefit of doing. A school lunch hour has become increasingly restricted and is increasingly a school lunch half-hour as against an hour.

“So what we’re wanting to do is ensure that as we do this review we look at all the options, so children are not able to just benefit from better academic attainment with extra support in English and maths, but also enrichment in the other activities they can benefit from being in school.”

The education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, appointed by the government to oversee education catch-up in England, resigned last week in protest at the offer, which fell way short of the £15bn package he had called for – which included plans for an extended school day.

Responding to Williamson’s statement, the shadow education secretary, Kate Green, told the Commons the government had failed children and young people.

“They were promised that their education was the prime minister’s number one priority but they’ve been betrayed by a secretary of state who has let them down once again, and by a prime minister who won’t lift a finger for them when it comes to a row with the chancellor about prioritising the investment needed in their future.”

Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper, meanwhile, asked Williamson: “Does the secretary of state think that the right man resigned?”

Former Labour minister Angela Eagle said if she were to mark the education secretary’s homework she would give him an “F for fail”.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “Today’s statement confirms the disappointing scope and scale of the government’s ambition for children and young people.”



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