Williamson provokes further anger with Ofsted threat

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has again caused anger among teachers and school staff as he suggested that parents who are unhappy with the remote learning offer being provided by their school should report the matter to Ofsted.

Mr Williamson made the suggestion as he spoke in parliament on 6 January about the government’s plans for schools during the current national lockdown in England. He said that schools were legally obliged to provide ‘high quality’ remote education of between three and five hours a day, and that this would be enforced by Ofsted, then commented: ‘If parents feel that their child's school is not providing a suitable remote education, they should first raise their concerns with the teacher or headteacher and, failing that, report the matter to Ofsted. Ofsted will inspect schools of any grade where it has serious concerns about the quality of remote education being provided.’

The comments were echoed in updated guidance for schools on remote education which was published the next day. As well as specifying hours of remote education to be provided – three hours for Key Stage 1, four hours for Key Stage 2, and five hours for Key Stages 3 and 4 – it says that parents can contact Ofsted if they are not satisfied with the ‘quantity and quality’ of remote learning provided. However the guidance does encourage parents to raise concerns directly with the school in the first instance.

Reaction to Mr Williamson’s comments on social media was swift, with many pointing out that additional pressure on schools was unhelpful as they were racing to catch-up with the speed of government U-turns. Successive government statements had first seen schools encouraged to open on Monday 4 January, then swiftly told to provide remote learning from Tuesday 5 January. Journalist Robert Hutton wrote on Twitter ‘Very impressed with Williamson’s effortless 48-hour pivot from “Why aren’t you teaching them in school?” to “Why aren’t you better set up to teach remotely?”’. Meanwhile former teacher Laura McInerney, co-founder of the TeacherTapp app, tweeted ‘I understand Williamson wants to ensure parents get a good service from schools, but pulling Ofsted as a threat 24 hours after closing schools is like going to A&E right now and handing out complaint forms for the wait times.’

Union leaders also weighed in on the matter. Responding to Mr Williamson’s statement Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said: ‘Schools were told at 8pm on Monday night that they would to switch to remote learning by 9am the next day and to organise provision for vulnerable and key worker pupils. They have spent the last 48 hours working tirelessly to put plans in place, despite the fact that on Sunday the PM was saying that schools would remain open. Meanwhile pupils up and down the country are still awaiting the internet devices that were promised last summer. We’re into the ninth month of the pandemic and many schools and pupils are still waiting for their allocation to come through. And devices are only being made available for older primary pupils, not those in key stage 1 at all. The government really has really let young people down miserably on this one. It is therefore nothing short of disgraceful that the government should choose today to start threatening schools about the quality of their remote learning offer. Schools are keeping going in the most extreme circumstances right now – support is needed to overcome the challenges they face, not threat or sanction.’

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