Where is Gavin Williamson, Labour asks as row over reopening schools deepens

Sophia Sleigh
·2-min read
 (Parliament TV)
(Parliament TV)

Labour's whips office has questioned why the Education Secretary will not attend the Commons today to answer an urgent question on his plans for schools.

Ministers are coming under increasing pressure to give students, teachers and parents clarity as to when schools will reopen.

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green has requested Gavin Williamson’s plan for reopening schools. However, it appears that schools minister Nick Gibb will instead stand in for the Education Secretary today in the Commons.

The Labour whips office Twitter account posted: "Where's Gavin Williamson?

"There's an urgent question in Parliament today which is of huge importance to millions of students, parents, teachers and staff looking for answers on the Government's plans for the reopening of educational settings. Gavin Williamson isn't turning up."

Secretaries of State often send deputies when there is a Urgent Question and they have nothing new to announce.

The Standard has approached the Department for Education for a response.

Boris Johnson promised on Monday to give a further indication on reopening schools “as soon as we can”. The Government has repeatedly promised that schools would be the first to reopen when lockdown is lifted.

But Labour shadow schools minister Wes Streeting questioned whether schools were being prioritised by the Government, telling BBC Radio 4's Today: "The Prime Minister said yesterday that he was looking at and hoping to ease restrictions from mid-February but then later the same day Downing Street was saying that schools may not reopen until Easter.

"That does not sound to me like education being the priority."

He said Labour's position was that classrooms should be back in use before Easter "if the circumstances allow".

Labour’s Streeting said it doesn’t sound like education is a priorityWes Streeting's Office
Labour’s Streeting said it doesn’t sound like education is a priorityWes Streeting's Office

Government sources have told the Telegraph that mid-March is now viewed by ministers as the target deadline by which to reopen schools.

Meanwhile, The Sun is suggesting that key exam years could be first under “phased return” plans and The Times reports that Public Health England think primary schools can reopen after half-term.

It comes as amid increasing pressure from Tory backbenchers who are calling for schools to fully reopen or for ministers to quantify the harms and benefits of the shutdown.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said studies about infection rates at primary schools had been "encouraging".

He told BBC Breakfast: "The Prime Minister has made it a priority that schools are the first thing to come back.

"We've seen some encouraging data from Public Health England, and the Prime Minister reviews the data all the time, around primary schools.”

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