Gavin Williamson: the Queen’s portrait and twisted priorities
Dear Gavin Williamson, I am one of the forgotten students from the North East, who grew up in a low-income area. I went to schools with a high percentage of students on Free School Meals. I’m one of the students who happens to be SEND. Therefore I was disadvantaged when it came to GCSE results but overcame the odds and got into university.
Why do I say all of this? Because it’s time for you to have a look in the mirror and get your priorities straight. Why am I taking the time to criticise you? Because that seems to be what you’re doing with universities at the minute! From yelling about the lack of free speech on university campuses, to portraits of the Queen being removed from Oxford. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in diversity of thought and I wish the queen nothing but the best.
And this isn’t a partisan thing; I’d be fine with another conservative education minister, if they actually cared about education and knew what they were doing. That isn’t you. Your priorities baffle me. You call yourself Marmite, but many of us agree that your leadership has been disgraceful and despicable. Here’s why.
While you fixate on one of the most revered and financially secure universities in our country, do you know that SEND provisions in schools are underfunded, to the point where these services could be cut due to the lack of funding? Schools across my region could potentially lose up to £7 million, which would be used to support students from low-income backgrounds.
Disadvantaged by poverty
Labour seems to have it figured out when it comes to this issue. They acknowledge that children in my region are already disadvantaged by poverty as it is. And they have concluded that our region needs extra funding in order to make up for this. Digital poverty has already been an issue as it is. We have the highest percentage of internet non-users in the UK. Despite this, you seem to be aspiring to rub salt in that wound. Otherwise, why would you be more concerned about the portrait than your own catch-up tsar resigning?
GCSE and A-level debacle
I have several friends with SEND who were waiting for their GCSE and A-Level results when the first lockdown happened. They had many of the anxieties of the general population, what with you doing a last-minute U-turn on the results. This was despite many saying that it should’ve happened sooner. But you think you know more than the professionals that do this for a living, and more than the students that have to live with the consequences of your decisions. We’re already behind other regions and the UK average in regards to GCSE grades. And now you’ve maintained the SEND GCSE results gap by not providing SEND exam students with their own appeals process. Thanks for that!
The current university students
I’ve spent most of this letter so far worrying about the next generation who are going to deal with the consequences of your reprehensible management for years to come. But I’m nervous for myself and my university friends as well.
Michelle Donelan, I’ve had some strong words for you too. In my first few articles, I explore how we’ve been deprived of a quality education this year, and how we’re paying £9250 for the privilege of listening to Zoom calls and being gaslit into a 70% chance of mental illness. Because I’m autistic, I’m already considered unemployable, with only 22% of us being in any form of employment.
So what chance do I have of breaking into the job market due to being disadvantaged by both my autism and the pandemic? What would you know about universities anyway, seeing as your background is in marketing? At least you can teach Gavin to market his inadequacies in order to maintain his stranglehold over the education system.
Back to you Gavin. I find it quite interesting that you studied Social Sciences at university, so you should know how disadvantaged people from my socio-economic background are. But what’s that you’ve been saying about certain degrees (primarily art degrees) being a dead end? Apparently there are exemptions if you become a MP.
I’m terrified of the damage that you have caused, especially seeing as the future of students across all education institutions have taken a backseat to political showboating and party pandering. However, I do want to thank you for making everyone determined to achieve the best despite your ‘leadership’.
Getting something positive out of university experience
I became a programme rep knowing that I wanted to try and get something positive out of our inadequate university experience this year. I started Schools Matter UK wanting a better future for all schoolchildren, and I’m now coming into my own as an education researcher and activist. Because unlike you it seems, there’s so many of us that actually care.
Priorities for Gavin Williamson
So go worry about free speech, as if LGBT children across my region haven’t struggled with isolation during the lockdowns due to discrimination. Go worry about a portrait of the Queen, as if a removed portrait is a vote against free school meals that would have benefited our region the most. But you voted against that, so never mind. Go worry about the things that you know will manufacture outrage so you can avoid accountability for how irresponsible you have been.
Once you stop pandering to the right-wing media, I want you to look at yourself in the mirror and ponder why you care more about a portrait than the chaos and distress happening under your nose. I want you to ask yourself if you can sleep at night knowing all the damage that you’ve caused our region. All of us will be waiting for your answer.
Connor Lamb and everyone else who actually cares about education.