Williamson’s knighthood is proving the most ‘shocking’ event since his last promotion

Gavin Williamson

Headteachers and teachers’ leaders have expressed their “shock” and “surprise” over the news that former education secretary Gavin Williamson has been awarded a knighthood. Arguably, given his time in the position, Williamson is more deserving of lines than an honour (ideally something like ‘I will not occupy a position of importance’).

The confusion around the situation is shared by others, among them journalist Adam Bienkov:

Shock, surprise, and chaos

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said headteachers would be “surprised” to learn the news. He added that the challenges of the pandemic and their impact on education would have been “challenging for any education secretary, and this needs to be recognised”. However, Barton also said:

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the experience of schools and colleges of Mr Williamson during his tenure as education secretary was one of endless muddle, inevitable U-turns, and even threats of legal action to override local decisions.

This was not all Mr Williamson’s fault. The hand of Downing Street was detectable amidst the chaos too. However, many parents will share our surprise that his record in this role warrants the conferring of a knighthood.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said of the news:

Members of the public who thinks that honours such as this should be a reward for honourable service and being effective at competent in your job?

Well, no one could really say that Gavin Williamson was any of these.

It’s true that he was actually saved for education, that it’s a very, very difficult time. But if there was a wrong decision to be made, Gavin Williamson unerringly made it.

He wasn’t helped by Downing Street. That’s absolutely true. But, you know, this is a classic example of being promoted upwards for failure – keep failing upwards.

I also suspect that Boris Johnson knows very well, that he shares some of the blame for the catastrophic handling of education during Covid and this is a sop to his conscience, that he left Gavin Williamson to front up some of the very bad decisions have been made at number 10, rather than the DfE. So this is this is a belated compensation for having been the fall guy for some of Number 10’s bad decisions, although he was quite capable of making many of his own.

The teachers and the head teachers and the education professionals who did keep education going at their own huge personal and professional cost, will well, many will be outraged by this, because they had to deal not only with Covid, but with Gavin Williamson’s incompetence, and they will be outraged that he has been rewarded for his failure in this way.

Centre of Excellence for Human Security announcement
Gavin Williamson during a visit to Salisbury Plains Training Area when he was defence secretary (Steve Parsons/PA)


Members of the public have reacted with an equal level of shock – among them ex-footballer Gary Neville, who said simply:

Labour MPs Richard Burgon and Zarah Sultana also commented on the situation:

Popular leftist Twitter user Tom London, meanwhile, commented on the alleged ‘honour’ of the honours system:

Financial Times journalist Henry Mance commented on the timing:

One popular theory is that Williamson ‘knows where the bodies are buried’, and scientist Mike Galsworthy commented on that idea:

Others had much to say too:

While people are right to be shocked and horrified by Williamson’s knighthood, the sad truth is it’s not all that shocking. In fact, it’s increasingly becoming the case that the honorific ‘sir’ could be short for ‘certifiably a bad person’.

Additional reporting by PA

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