An apprenticeship Minister was under fire last night for vacationing in the French Alps while teenagers in the UK were getting their exam grades "through hell".
The Mail on Sunday can show that when students were worried about their future, Gillian Keegan enjoyed hiking, mountain bike tours and diving in a mountain lake – and boasted about it on Instagram.
Amazingly, beleaguered Education Secretary Gavin Williamson found time to “like” some of her posts.
Ms. Keegan is Minister for Apprenticeships and Qualifications in the Ministry of Education and has joint responsibility for the education strategy after 16 years.
When the exam fiasco peaked, she decided to stay in France – even as quarantine restrictions went into effect that required her to self-isolate for 14 days on her eventual return to the UK.
On August 15th, two days after the A-Level results were posted in England, she wrote on social media: “We have to make the most of it (our vacation) as we will be quarantined for 14 days after we return & # 39 ;. The mail was accompanied by an emoji of a woman shrugging her shoulders.
In other coronavirus developments in the UK:
- Gavin Williamson took a seaside hiatus in Scarborough for a week, arriving just days before the A-Level fiasco that rocked his position.
- A former scientific advisor warned that the coronavirus will be there "forever" and people will likely need regular vaccinations against it.
- Six million vacationers have broken the rules by doing their jobs from home despite the ban on work during lockdown. This resulted in an important new report.
- The UK Chief Medical Officers have unanimously told parents that their children will be able to return to classrooms next month as they are at "low risk" of Covid-19.
- Scotland's 73 percent increase in new coronavirus cases leads the UK to its highest Saturday level in eight weeks with 1,288 infections.
- Andy Burnham has said the coronavirus restrictions are working in Greater Manchester and reducing the number of cases.
The Mail on Sunday can show that when students were worried about their future, Gillian Keegan enjoyed hiking, mountain bike tours and diving in a mountain lake – and boasted about it on Instagram. This picture was published on the graduation day
Although Ms. Keegan posted a new message and picture yesterday announcing that she was "back to Blighty," she did not respond to this newspaper's request for comment on her short vacation.
However, she now has the prospect of not being able to attend the Commons in person if she is resumed on September 1st as she may still be in quarantine.
Mr Williamson also declined to comment, with sources saying it was not a policy to "comment on ministerial diaries".
Supporters jumped to Ms. Keegan's defense, saying she did not hide the fact that she was absent and that colleague Minister Michelle Donelan, who shares responsibilities for the education strategy after 16 years, had been on the service. They stressed that Ms. Keegan, a self-proclaimed “proud scouser” MP for Chichester, had done some work in her absence.
"She didn't just sit with her feet up all the time," said one.
But Labor described their behavior last night as "incredible – even for this gawking government".
Rural chalet in the French Alps where Mrs. Keegan spent her vacation. Ms. Keegan is Minister for Apprenticeships and Qualifications in the Ministry of Education and has joint responsibility for the education strategy after 16 years
Labor MP Neil Coyle said: "Gavin Williamson's incompetence really knows no bounds. Young people who have been through hell in the last few weeks will be disgusted to learn that one of the ministers involved in this mayhem is on vacation in France has lived.
"But instead of Mr. Williamson realizing that he needed his hands on deck when this exam disaster loomed, he not only let her hang out on vacation, he even liked her vacation photos."
Mr Williamson's response to the exam crisis was received with a mixture of ridicule and anger when thousands of teenagers were devastated when their predicted grades were downgraded, putting their study places at risk, before Ministers were forced to make a humiliating U-turn.
Boris Johnson is believed to have turned down Mr Williamson's offer to resign, but the Education Secretary's decision to allow one of his junior ministers to be on vacation as the crisis deepened raised new questions about his verdict.
Ms. Keegan, 52, announced on Instagram on Aug. 6 that she would be staying at Courchevel, an alpine resort popular with the rich and famous. In the days that followed, she published a series of photos, spoke of “good spirits” and even celebrated her calm and relaxation on the day the A-Level results were published.
Mr Williamson's response to the exam crisis was received with a mixture of ridicule and anger when thousands of teenagers were devastated when their predicted grades were downgraded, putting their study places at risk, before Ministers were forced to make a humiliating U-turn. The students are pictured on a march to the Ministry of Education on Saturday
Mr. Williamson “liked” several of her posts, including one on August 6th entitled, “We made it to our happy place for a few days. #Hiking #biking #wildswimming and all the adventures we can find around the Clear mind. " But at home, the media warned of an impending school crisis following the earlier exam grades fiasco in Scotland.
Mr. Williamson also approved Ms. Keegan's post the following day from the 7,500 foot Col de la Loze mountain pass.
When the UK was flooded with horrific reports that schools were bringing in lawyers to prevent results from being dramatically reduced, Ms. Keegan posted a picture of a bath in a lake in Le Praz. It was headlined: "Another wonderful day."
Two days later she wrote next to a picture of a sun-drenched mountain: "Wonderful view from our balcony … #goodvibes."
On August 11, just 48 hours before the peak of the A-Level Crisis, she enjoyed “another wonderful day of # hiking in the mountains”. Again, Mr. Williamson found time to "like" the photo.
When the day of the A-Level results hit England on August 13th, Ms. Keegan's horizon darkened, but only because of the news that British vacationers in France would soon be quarantined for two weeks because of their rising French infection rates, when they return to the UK. Her post included a rolling emoji to indicate her frustration, but her photo featured a smile and sunglasses
Ms. Keegan decided not to attempt to return before the quarantine period expired, apparently with the blessing of Mr. Williamson. On August 15, he "liked" her message from the Alps, where, glass in hand, she declared, "We must make the most of it as we will be quarantined for 14 days when we come back."
The Sunday mail reported the next day how a distraught high school senior told School Secretary Nick Gibb, "You have ruined my life." But Ms. Keegan simply admitted that she would have to be quarantined with her husband on her return and wrote “Nice work, we like each other” – another message Mr. Williamson likes
Finally, on Tuesday last week, the competence minister wrote about her pizza in Courchevel in growing expectation that her boss would now lose his job. Some may now recommend humble cakes.
Another wonderful day in the Alps, a shame about the disaster at home
Gavin Williamson took a seaside hiatus in Scarborough for a week – only arriving at A-Level DAYS before the chaos when his handling of the exam fiasco came under renewed pressure
By Glen Owen for the mail on Sunday
Gavin Williamson Last night there was renewed pressure to deal with the A-Level crisis after it was discovered he'd been on a seaside vacation in the lead up to the fiasco.
According to Sunday's mail, the Secretary of Education took a week-long break in Scarborough from August 2nd and returned just days before the A-Level results were released on August 13th.
An algorithm used by Examination Board Ofqual resulted in a staggering 40 percent of grades being downgraded by teachers' predictions, meaning thousands of devastated students were rejected from their first choice universities.
It is also believed that Mr Williamson canceled an important meeting while he was in North Yorkshire.
Gavin Williamson found himself under renewed pressure last night as he tackled the A-Level Crisis after it was discovered he'd been on a seaside vacation leading up to the fiasco
Mr Williamson is struggling to keep his seat in the cabinet after initially insisting that the algorithm was "robust" and that there would be "no U-turn, no change" – before making a humiliating U-turn in the face of growing student protests.
Sir Jon Coles, a former director general of schools in the Department of Education, heightened the pressure by directly warning Mr. Williamson in early July that the algorithm could produce inaccurate results for hundreds of thousands of students. Last night, a spokesman for Mr Williamson said the trip to Scarborough was not a holiday because he "worked every day".
The spokesman said, “It was the only opportunity for him to visit his mother and father that he was unable to visit during the lockdown. It was not a holiday as he worked every day and continued to hold meetings remotely.
"He's also canceled a vacation abroad to make sure he can be in the country by the time the results are published."
The revelation came as protesters gathered outside the Ministry of Education yesterday and sang “Get Gav Gone” and “We are the future”. Protest organizer Glen Morgan-Shaw said: "We will make them aware that if they are to protect the people, they are doing everything to protect themselves."
After the U-turn, the government asked universities to give admission priority to students from disadvantaged backgrounds "where possible". Downing Street sources say they will not address Mr. Williamson's dismissal for "supporting" their people. Mr. Williamson played a key role in the campaign to elect Mr. Johnson as Tory leader.
Going Back to School Is Safe: The UK Chief Medical Officers unanimously inform parents that their children can return to classrooms next month as they are at "exceptionally low risk" from coronavirus
By Glen Owen, Political Editor for Mail am Sonntag and Emer Scully for MailOnline
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said not reopening schools next month was not an option – as the UK Chief Medical Officers tell parents that their children are at "exceptionally low risk" of Covid-19 in the classroom.
The highly unusual "consensus declaration" by the country's top experts removes the final hurdle to resuming full-time education in September – to the relief of parents who have been forced to home-school the majority of children since March.
Meanwhile, a Whitehall source told The Daily Telegraph Downing Street that there can be "no ifs, no buts" in meeting the national priority.
"Schools that don't come back are not an option," they added. "Failure is not an option."
All 12 chief and deputy chief medical officers agree that "very few, if any, teenagers will suffer long-term harm from Covid-19 just from attending school".
And they say that a low risk needs to be balanced against "the certainty of long-term harm for many children out of school".
The experts also conclude that "teachers are not at an increased risk of dying from Covid-19 compared to other workers," saying that the evidence from other countries is that in some cases the reopening of schools is not involved associated with an increase.
Students sit apart during a socially distant language class at Longdendale High School on July 16, 2020 in Hyde, England
Her reassuring statement comes after Boris Johnson posted a rally in The Mail two weeks ago on Sunday telling union leaders trying to block schools from reopening that the country has a "moral duty" to teach to resume.
And last week, union leader Sir Keir Starmer argued – also in this newspaper – that Mr Johnson had a "moral responsibility" to keep his promise.
The intervention of the medical experts came as follows:
- Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, the minister responsible for reopening schools, has been criticized again for handling the A-level results fiasco when it was revealed that he was taking a vacation days before the crisis hit.
- The government said 41,423 people in the UK had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of yesterday, an increase from 18 the day before;
- Northwest town hall chiefs claimed they would be "punished" with draconian new lockdowns on good testing;
- According to sources, senior government officials have been instructed to prepare for a second lockdown in the UK in November in the "worst-case scenario" if infection rates continue to rise.
- Former scientific advisor Professor Sir Mark Walport warned that the coronavirus will be "forever" rather than being eradicated like smallpox, and that people will likely need regular vaccinations against it, as it does with the flu.
- The US government's leading health research agency has raised grave concerns about a secret Chinese laboratory believed to be the cause of the pandemic and called for responses to the "apparent disappearance" of a scientist believed to be "patient zero."
- The British were scrambling to return from Croatia, Austria, Trinidad and Tobago before new quarantine restrictions went into effect, while others ran to book holiday vacations in Portugal after it was placed on the green list as safe.
In their statement, doctors set aside the unions' safety concerns by stating that there is "an exceptionally low risk of elementary or secondary school age children dying from Covid-19".
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured), the minister in charge of reopening schools, has been criticized again for handling the A-level results fiasco when it was revealed that he was on vacation just days before the crisis hit
They said the death rate for infected children ages five to 15 is only 14 in a million, "lower than most seasonal flu infections," and while every child death is a tragedy, "almost all deaths (from Covid) are in children with significant pre-existing health conditions ”.
The experts report that only one in a thousand children under nine who show symptoms of Covid would need hospital treatment, a number that climbs to three in thousand for ten to 19 year olds.
That's still an order of magnitude lower than the four percent rate for the general population, and the experts add, "Most of these children recover quickly."
Given this tiny risk, scientists say, "We are confident that multiple sources of evidence show that a lack of schooling increases inequalities, decreases children's life chances, and can exacerbate physical and mental health problems."
Students arrive at Kelso High School on the Scottish Borders on August 11th as schools reopened in Scotland amid concerns about the safety of returning to the classroom during the coronavirus pandemic
Although officials accept that there will be "transmission of Covid-19 to school staff", they believe it is largely "staff to staff" which can be limited by "social distancing and good infection control." .
They tried to reassure the staff by saying that the data suggested teaching was a "lower risk profession".
The experts acknowledge that the connections between households made by returning schools, such as contact at school gates or more people using public transport, "will put some upward pressure on transmission," but said that "others Work and social environments … probably are "more important".
We are confident that multiple sources of evidence show that a lack of schooling increases inequalities, decreases children's life chances, and can exacerbate physical and mental health problems
However, their comments came when coronavirus cases were reported in at least 41 schools in Berlin two weeks after the city's 825 schools reopened.
UK Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said last night that the "incredibly small" health risks should be weighed against the overwhelming evidence that schooling is long-term harmful to children and that this includes their long-term opportunities.
"It increases the risk of disparities, it anchors deeply rooted problems, it increases the risk that they will be mentally and physically ill in the long term."
He added that transmission rates across the UK have been largely unchanged, saying, “The evidence from other parts of the world is that the opening of schools has not resulted in a sudden surge in transmission that looks like this to be the case Schools lies opening.
Mr Whitty, who signed the declaration with his colleagues from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and their eight MEPs after considering a wide range of experts and research, also noted that there may be "other restrictions" on local ones Bans must exist in order to keep schools open.
He said, “We really have to make pretty tough decisions. There are no easy ways to deal with coronavirus. & # 39;
Dr. Patrick Roach of the NASUWT Teachers Union said, “The statement by the Chief Medical Officers has reinforced the critical importance of risk control measures. "Governments across the UK need to take steps to ensure that effective systems are in place to monitor school practices and that safety is maintained after schools reopen."
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