Labour: Williamson must “end his ‘Invisible Man’ act” on university chaos

Andrew Kersley
© Bart Lenoir/

Kate Green has called on the Education Secretary to “end his ‘Invisible Man’ act” and “get to grips with the situation” facing students who have recently returned to universities in the pandemic.

Commenting ahead of a parliamentary statement by Gavin Williamson tomorrow, the Shadow Education Secretary said the chaos unfolding at universities had been met by “days of silence” from her Tory counterpart.

Green demanded that Williamson “put young people and parents’ minds at rest” in his Commons contribution, following widespread reports of disruption as thousands of students have seen campus lockdowns and severe restrictions.

Highlighting the “anxiety mounting among parents”, as well as the challenge for students confined to their accommodation, Labour has set out a number of key questions for the Education Secretary to answer:

  • “What steps he took over the summer to ensure that students would be able to return to university safely?
  • “Whether after days of chaos and contradictory statements from Conservative politicians, he can finally guarantee that every student will be able to safely return home to be with their families at Christmas after access to testing?
  • “What urgent steps are now being taken to ensure that every student can receive the best standard of education, whether on campus or at home?
  • “If he can guarantee that every student who is required to self-isolate will be able to access their education remotely?
  • “What his message is for parents and those students who have not yet moved to campus?
  • “What steps are being put in place to support the mental health of students, particularly those who are required to self-isolate?
  • “What help will be provided to students unions to allow them to continue to provide pastoral support to students on and off campus?”

The Shadow Education Secretary said: “After days of silence, this statement is a chance for the Education Secretary to end his ‘Invisible Man’ act and begin to get to grips with the situation. None of this was unforeseeable.

“Labour and others have warned that campuses would need access to testing. But – just as with the exams fiasco over the summer – the Education Secretary has created chaos through his incompetence and failure to act.

“Gavin Williamson must set out what he is doing to resolve these problems and put young people and parents’ minds at rest.”

Despite the disruption seen over the past few days as restrictions have been imposed on students, Williamson has so far not made any public appearance, issued any statement or posted on social media since September 10th.

Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy used an interview on Sunday to call on the government to make sure that students could return home at Christmas after cabinet ministers offered mixed messages on the issue.

Conservative Party co-chair Amanda Milling claimed on the weekend that there were no plans to keep students at university over Christmas, three days after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the opposite.

The Shadow Education Secretary urged Williamson in a letter sent over the weekend to delay the start of some university terms this year until mass testing is available to all students on campuses.

Labour MP Siobhan McDonagh accused universities on Monday of treating their students like “cash cows”, and suggested that the UK should consider refunds for students who now face campus lockdowns.

This latest intervention by Green comes after reports emerged that 1,700 students at Manchester Metropolitan University were banned from leaving their flats, even to get a coronavirus test at a walk-in centre less than a mile away.

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