Teachers are being urged to give up part of their summer holiday to deal with the ‘national emergency’ after Gavin Williamson bungled the reopening of schools.
The education secretary will be ousted in a cabinet reshuffle expected in the autumn, according to The Sunday Times.
Boris Johnson’s top team are ‘livid’ at Mr Williamson for not playing hardball with the teachers’ unions which forced the Prime Minster to yesterday announce that there won’t be any full-time school until September.
Five former education secretaries have set out a plan which implores the government to get schools up and running faster by demanding that teachers give up a slice of their six-week summer holiday.
Boris Johnson solemnly promised that schools will return fully in September and hinted at an imminent shift on the two-metre rule – something that would delight business and Tory MPs
Drawn up by Labour’s Lord Adonis, a former schools minister, it says the government should confirm the social-distancing rules, appoint a national director of school operations and bring back teachers in August to start preparing.
Lord Adonis told The Times: ‘I see no reason why we cannot have a complete return of schools in September subject to proper organisation and leadership by the government.
A Downing Street source told The Times that Mr Williamson’s soft approach with the teachers’ unions had damaged his reputation. The insider told the paper: ‘Gavin played nicely with the unions in the hope that they would sign up, and they didn’t. People in there [Downing Street] know how you take on the teaching unions and beat them.’
‘We did this king of planning in the Second World War; we should be able to do it in 2020.’
Among actions being urged on Downing Street is the calling up of an army of retired supply teachers to fill in the gaps when teachers need to self-isolate, hiring church halls to provide more space and the stockpiling of hand sanitiser, masks and thermometers for classrooms.
The plan is supported by David Laws, a Lib Dem in charge of education as part of David Cameron’s coalition, former Labour education secretaries Alan Johnson and David Blunkett and former Tory education secretary Lord Baker.
Most children have not been able to attend school since lockdown started in March and have instead had online classes.
A Downing Street source told The Times that Mr Williamson’s soft approach with the teachers’ unions had damaged his reputation.
The insider told the paper: ‘Gavin played nicely with the unions in the hope that they would sign up, and they didn’t. People in there [Downing Street] know how you take on the teaching unions and beat them.’
This refers to Dominic Cummings, who helped Michael Gove to reform schools under the coalition government and who referred to the teaching establishment as ‘the blob.’
Mr Williamson hinted at yesterday’s daily coronavirus briefing that class sizes could be doubled as he underlined the government’s determination to have ‘every child back in every year group in every school’ after the summer holidays.
Boris Johnson visited Bovingdon Primary Academy in Hemel Hempstead on Friday
Pupils work on a task to produce artwork that depicts life during lockdown with social distancing practices in place at Greenacres Primary Academy in Oldham
A socially-distanced reception class in Greenacres Primary Academy in Oldham
He said the ‘bubbles’ would in future be expanded to ‘include the whole class’ – which would be around 30 pupils.
But he refused to give more details, saying full guidance for schools will be published over the next fortnight.
‘There are still going to have to be protective measures put in place to make sure children are safe,’ he said.
Earlier, Mr Johnson solemnly promised that schools will return fully in September and hinted at an imminent shift on the two-metre rule – something that would delight business and Tory MPs.
An ebullient PM hailed news that the coronavirus alert level has finally been reduced from four to three, meaning the Joint Biosecurity Centre has concluded there is no longer ‘high transmission’.
Asked on a visit to a primary in Hemel Hempstead whether the restriction will be eased, Mr Johnson said: ‘Watch this space.’
However, General secretary of the National Education Union Kevin Courtney said class sizes would need to be cut from 30 to between 15 and 17 for pupils to obey the two metre social distancing rule.
This would still be the case even if the mandatory distance was cut to one metre.
He said proposals to have children ‘in one week and off the next week’ are ‘not good enough’ and the government should make provisions to provide double the amount of teachers and classrooms.
General secretary of the National Education Union Kevin Courtney (pictured) warned that two metre – or even one metre – social distancing rules mean that class sizes could need to be cut from 30 to between 15 and 17
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Courtney said: ‘It’s absolutely everybody’s aspiration that every child should be back in school in September if that is safe according to the scientists.’
He added: ‘But the question is what the scientists will say about the social distancing because even if you reduce the two-metre distance to one metre, head teachers tell me that you cannot possibly get a full class.
‘And if that’s the situation that we’re in in September, then the choice is of classes of 15 with children in one week and off the next week. And that’s not good enough.
‘So what we would like to see is that doubling of the classrooms and the doubling of the teachers.
‘If scientists say that you don’t need that, if you can have classes of 30 […] without it pushing the R up, that’s one situation.
‘But if we’re betting everything on that and scientists tell us in September: “You’ve done loads of good work, we’ve got the case rate down but if we go back to full classes the R will go above one” […] then we need extra classrooms if children are going to be back in school.
‘And we’re calling for the government to invest in that now.’