Star comment: Sir Gavin's comments highlight stark divide

Sir Gavin Williamson’s criticism of teaching unions should come as no surprise to anyone who recalls the turmoil that surrounded our schools at the end of 2020.

Sir Gavin Williamson
Sir Gavin Williamson

One minute the schools were on course to open for the new term, the next they were closed again, with then-PM Boris Johnson warning they may act as “vectors” for the transmission of Covid after another embarrassing U-turn.

The leaked messages from the months leading up to that particular fiasco paint an interesting picture of what went on behind the scenes.

Sir Gavin was clearly at loggerheads with the unions – as well as then Health Secretary Matt Hancock – over whether to open schools.

Judging by the events of recent days, those wounds are yet to heal.

Sir Gavin claims that history has proved him correct in his assertion that the schools should have opened for all pupils.

People will have their own opinions on that, as well as his insistence that his criticism was aimed towards unions and not teachers, who he is at pains to heap praise upon.

Move forward to the present day and the Government is once again rowing with teaching unions, with thousands of members of the National Education Union across the Midlands out on strike this week in a dispute over pay and conditions.

More strikes are planned in a couple of weeks, and with no sign of any deadlock being broken in the negotiations, the likelihood is they will go ahead.

Just like it was back in 2020, it seems that ministers are faced with hostile union leaders who simply refuse to budge.

With no agreement on the horizon, we can expect more lost days of education for our youngsters and more disruption for parents who will be forced to adjust their working arrangements accordingly.

Rishi Sunak appears to have demonstrated some wily political acumen over Brexit. Now can he find a way of placating the unions?


Lives might have been saved if fewer errors had been made in relation to the Manchester Bombing.

A new report shows that opportunities to stop the perpetrator were missed and significant mistakes were made in the aftermath.

However, it’s important to reflect on this unarguable truth. The mistakes identified were accidental. They were made without intention or malice and by those with only good intentions. The only deliberate act in the whole, tragic episode was that of Salman Abedi.

He was determined to kill indiscriminately and was very difficult to stop. It is true that lessons could and should be learned, to make a similar catastrophe less likely. It is also important to provide context and recognise the fact that Abedi was a terrorist who might well have found another way. Many lives were lost because of him.

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