Newcastle Headteacher says Gavin Williamson's position is 'untenable'

A Newcastle headteacher has told ITV News Tyne Tees that Gavin Williamson's position is 'untenable' following his Covid remote learning announcements in the House of Commons on Wednesday.The Education Secretary said the government had purchased one million computers, laptops and tablets, with more than 560,000 already distributed.However, he said schools will be expected to open their doors to pupils who cannot get access to the devices and said they could be reported to Ofsted if they fail to deliver "suitable remote learning" during the Coronavirus lockdown.Craig Heeley, head of Lemington Riverside Primary School, said his school had been given some laptops to hand out to families, but warned it was "not enough". He said Williamson's "Ofsted threat" was a "disgrace" and that his position was "untenable". The Department of Education would not comment further.

Gavin Williamson told MPs on Wednesday that children who lived in households that cannot access the electronic devices needed for home learning will be able to return to school alongside the children of key workers.Mr Heeley told ITV News this would cause "real issues" as he already had around 30 children still attending school. He said it would mean adding an extra 60 to that number, making closure of the school to prevent infections "pointless".

If we were to invite more children back into that new vulnerable category we could be up to almost 50 per cent capacity and I think we’d have real issues with that because staff are within their rights to not want to come and work face to face with children and if we had that large surge in numbers then we would be faced with a real issue.

Craig Heeley, Headteacher
Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary

An ITV News poll carried out by app Teacher Tapp found 92 per cent of almost 6,000 respondents think Mr Williamson should resign.Mr Heeley agreed with that sentiment after the Secretary of State told parents they could "report the matter to Ofsted" if schools were not providing "suitable" remote learning of "between three and five hours a day". Asked if the politician's position was untenable, he said "absolutely".

We saw the indecision on Sunday of saying that schools were safe and would be open on Monday. Less than 24 hours later, minds were changed, schools were then going to move to remote learning. Twenty-four hours later, again, we’re being threatened with Ofsted if things are not perfect straight away. His rhetoric yesterday was disgraceful.

Craig Heeley, Headteacher

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership supplied 230 laptops to students during the first lockdown and is fundraising to buy thousands more. Research by the group suggests at least 55,000 North East families have no access to these digital devices.

The impact of lost learning could be really, really significant for our young people. This is time in the classroom and learning that they will simply not get back unless the government acts quickly to ensure that every child has a digital device and is able to work remotely and is able to learn from home.

Sarah Mulholland, Northern Powerhouse Partnership

ITV News Tyne Tees put the allegations to the Department of Education and it referred us back to Gavin Williamson's statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday.