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Pupils back after ‘chaos’: Gavin Williamson apologises on first day of new term in Commons

Return to class: Children at Bishop Road Primary School in Bristol PICTURE: SWNS

GAVIN WILLIAMSON was blamed for a ‘summer of chaos’ as many pupils returned to school for the first time since the start of the lockdown.

The education secretary was accused of ‘incompetence’ in the Commons by his opposite number, Labour’s Kate Green, following his U-turns over exams and pupils wearing masks.

She urged him to ensure blunders did not carry on into an ‘autumn of disaster and dismay’.

She called on him to give schools extra cash for virus-related costs, to ensure that all pupils receive a ‘full education throughout the year’ and to delay next summer’s exams.

Clash: Ms Green and Mr Williamson

On the first day of parliament’s new term, Mr Williamson apologised in front of MPs for the ‘stress and uncertainty’ caused by the A-level algorithm fiasco that saw students given grades significantly lower than teachers had forecast.

He said ministers were determined exams and assessments would go ahead in 2021, but he was waiting for information from exams regulator Ofqual on how this would be managed. He has asked Ofqual to consider a delay.

‘We’re working with the sector to ensure that this is done as smoothly as possible,’ he told MPs. ‘While none of this disruption is what we wanted for our students, I believe that they now have a certainty and reassurance they deserve and will be able to embark on the next exciting phase of their lives.’

The Social Mobility Foundation has raised concerns that poorer pupils are still being ‘overlooked’ due to limited criteria for appealing over grades.

Meanwhile, a YouGov survey found 17 per cent of parents in England and Wales were considering not sending their children to school this month over Covid-19 fears.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has called for secondary school teachers to be regularly tested for Covid-19 to improve parents’ confidence.

But schools minister Nick Gibb put the onus on parents to arrange tests, saying ‘every school has been sent a small number of home testing kits’.

HALF of parents think their children’s social skills have been affected by months off school, and a third believe they are struggling academically, a study found. But 38 per cent of mums and dads worry about their children catching Covid-19 as they return to the classroom. The research was for Collins, whose education publisher Lee Newman said: ‘Parents are understandably anxious.’