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Cabinet Reshuffle: The past and future of the Education Minister

Roar writer Abdus Shaik on the failures of Gavin Williamson as Education Secretary, why he had to go and how the cabinet reshuffle will impact students. 

Gavin Williamson was the UK’s Education Minister from the 24th of July 2019 to the 15th of September 2021. But after the cabinet reshuffle, he was replaced by the relatively junior Nadhim Zahawi.

A notable alumnus of the University of Bradford, Gavin Williamson was the Education secretary for approximately two years. The majority of Williamson’s time in office was spent during the pandemic and with gaffs and failures but with some success. Williamson has been championed by the right for promoting freedom of speech at Universities, saying that the government would have to intervene if Universities failed to do so. Although this came with criticism from people who said that the new law would only serve to defend people who seek to preach their “extremist’ views and “harass people”.

Williamson’s time as Education Minister was highlighted by two key failures though. The debacle of GCSE and A level examinations during the Covid-19 pandemic, traditional sit-down exams were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic and replaced with Ofqual-moderated teacher assessments. This led to mass confusion, protests and an ever greater bias towards students from private schools. In August 2020 he apologized to schoolchildren for the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said “we haven’t got everything great, of course, I’m incredibly sorry for that”.

A month before he was removed from his role as Education Minister, Gavin Williamson surprisingly supported students when he hinted that he would back calls for refunds on tuition fees if Universities didn’t provide face-to-face teaching in the 2021-2022 academic year.

“I think if universities are not delivering, not delivering what students expect, then actually they shouldn’t be charging the full fees.”

The cabin reshuffle last week led to the replacement of Gavin Williamson by Nadhim Zahawi. Williamson was the first minister to be removed from office in the reshuffle, when news broke he tweeted that it had been his privilege to serve in his role since 2019 when Johnson first took charge.

 

Williamson was replaced later the same day by Nadhim Zahawi, a Chemical Engineering graduate of UCL, who was previously a junior Vaccination Minister and was rewarded for her great work by being appointed to the role of Education Minister.

Though Zahawi has also described vaccine passports as “discriminatory”, however, he changed his stance on the issue after calling for vaccine passports to be made mandatory in crowded areas to keep the night industry open. Though currently Health and Social Care Minister Sajid Javed has stated that vaccine passport plans will be “ditched“.

Zahawi has also faced personal controversies. In late January 2018, it was reported that Zahawi attended a men-only dinner event organised by the President’s Club at the Dorchester Hotel in London. Media reports alleged that female hostesses were subjected to sexual harassment and incidents of groping and inappropriate touch.

With Zahawi as the new Education Minister, it is very difficult to predict what his policies will look like. A father of three, he must sympathise with students one would think. But that certainly isn’t how politics works. Looking at his short career and controversies, one must hope that things will change for the better.

Physics Student at King's College London | 07948080968 | [email protected]

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