Labour MPs have attacked Gavin Williamson over “offensive nonsense” after the education secretary said a lack of “discipline and order” at home during lockdown has “inevitably” affected some pupils’ behaviour.
His comments in a Daily Telegraph column came as the Department for Education announced a £10m “behaviour hubs” programme to support schools in England that are “struggling with poor discipline”.
The department said a “a minority of pupils may need extra support”, with Williamson stressing in his column the importance of ensuring “out-of-control behaviour” does not destroy learning environments.
His comments prompted a pile-on of criticism from Labour MPs on Wednesday, with a number pointing to his patchy record during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since schools were initially closed at the start of the pandemic 13 months ago, Williamson has overseen the A-level results crisis, numerous free school meals and educational equipment rows, and an embarrassing U-turn in January when schools were closed just one day after being asked to reopen.
Referring to his new behaviour scheme, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said Williamson “should sort himself out before lecturing our kids after the year they've had, made a lot worse by their bad luck of growing up with him as education secretary”.
Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said that if Williamson were a school pupil himself, he “would be facing permanent expulsion after his year of calamities”.
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Backbench MP Helen Hayes said blaming a lack of “discipline and order” at home is “offensive nonsense”.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran also accused Williamson of “playing to baseless backward-looking stereotypes that are damaging to children”.
The reopening of schools on 8 March marked the first easing of England's lockdown.
The behaviour hubs programme will see leaders from 22 schools with strong reputations for behaviour and discipline advise other schools struggling in that area.
It will also encourage the banning of mobile phones, though schools will still be free to make its own policy on this.
The scheme was welcomed by Dame Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner for England, who cited “the extra strains caused by the pandemic” and said it would “help children to get back on track and thrive – not just academically, but socially too”.
Watch: How England is leaving lockdown