Tory MP Halfon blasts government ‘shambles' over school closures

Speaking on Radio 4 Woman's Hour the MP refused to single out Gavin Williamson and instead blamed ‘the whole government’


Conservative MP Robert Halfon has described the government’s decision to announce that schools would be shutting just one day after Boris Johnson had told BBC presenter Andrew Marr they would remain open as a “huge shambles”.

Speaking to new BBC Woman’s Hour host Emma Barnett on Tuesday, the Harlow MP and Education Select Committee chair, refused to single out Education Secretary Gavin Williamson for personal criticism, insisting: “I think this is the whole government.”

Mr Halfon, a vice president of the Jewish Leadership Council, told Ms Barnett he “wished he knew the answer” to her question on what exactly happened between the Prime Minister’s appearance on the BBC’s Marr Show and the announcement on Monday evening confirming a new lockdown, including the closure of schools.

The outspoken MP then added: “In fact at the weekend I was getting messages from ministers, the Conservative WhatsApp group was getting messages to say schools were safe, that transmission rates were pretty marginal when schools are closed, so that was why they could remain open.

“I was getting messages saying that teachers were at no greater risk than any other profession. I have campaigned for a long time now to get teachers and support staff vaccinated because I think that would help.

“I do not understand it. I wanted the schools to open as much as possible. I think it has been a huge shambles.

“This has got to stop. The government has got to offer consistency, a consistent policy that doesn’t change every couple of days.”

Ms Barnett, who took over from Jane Garvey as Woman’s Hour host on Monday and who has been an outspoken campaigner against antisemitism - much of which has been directed at her - asked Mr Halfon if he felt Mr Williamson was “fit for purpose for this job.”

Blaming the “whole government”, Mr Halfon said he “made it has business never to get involved in the personalities.”

Repeating his suggestion that the entire government’s response had been a “shambles”,  the former political director of the Conservative Friends of Israel group said they must now use the lockdown to “sort out vaccinations of teachers” and he said mobile units should be sent to schools to help administer jabs.

Ms Barnett also raised the concern that only half of the laptops promised to schoolchildren had arrived.

Mr Halfon backed free internet for those who are disadvantaged.

Asked about the cancellation of exams, Mr Halfon said he understood the situation would be clarified on Wednesday. He accepted “teachers and support staff had been marched up to the top of the hill and then down again and had enormous pressure put on them” with the announcement that exams would not go ahead.

Ms Barnett then suggested many would be losing all faith they had with the government. Mr Halfon said he understood this and called for the government to set out its “route map” out of the coronavirus crisis.

Asked if any Tory ministers would be listening to him over his criticism, Mr Halfon said: “I hope they will sort it out and make sure schools are open for children, that teachers have vaccinations and we have a proper route map out of coronavirus.

“I  want to make sure that the government and Ofsted work with schools, not as interrogators or investigators, but work with schools as candid friends to help them with remote learning.”




Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive