Gavin ‘Private Pike’ Williamson is sacked in Cabinet reshuffle after facing repeated calls to go

Gavin Williamson has been sacked as Education Secretary after coming under repeated pressure to resign over his handling of disruption to schools during the pandemic and the fiasco around grading of GCSE and A-level students amid cancelled exams. 

His tenure, which started in 2019, featured a number of gaffes including overseeing last year’s school exams debacle, being accused of ruining the credibility of this year’s A-Levels after a soaring grade inflation and confusing Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford with England rugby international Maro Itoje.

And today it ended as Boris Johnson removed the 45-year-old MP for South Staffordshire from his top team as he kicked off a dramatic reshuffle which also saw Robert Buckland and Robert Jenrick among the victims.

Mr Williamson said it had been a ‘privilege’ to serve as Education Secretary and that he looks forward to ‘continuing to support the Prime Minister and the government’.

Gavin Williamson was today sacked as Education Secretary, a role he has held since July 2019. He had come under repeated pressure to resign over his handling of disruption to schools during the pandemic and the fiasco around grading of GCSE and A-level students amid cancelled exams

Gavin Williamson was today sacked as Education Secretary, a role he has held since July 2019. He had come under repeated pressure to resign over his handling of disruption to schools during the pandemic and the fiasco around grading of GCSE and A-level students amid cancelled exams

Gavin Williamson was today sacked as Education Secretary, a role he has held since July 2019. He had come under repeated pressure to resign over his handling of disruption to schools during the pandemic and the fiasco around grading of GCSE and A-level students amid cancelled exams

Mr Williamson said it had been a privilege to serve as Education Secretary

Mr Williamson said it had been a privilege to serve as Education Secretary

Mr Williamson said it had been a privilege to serve as Education Secretary 

Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Angela Rayner called Mrs Williamson a 'prat' after learning he had been sacked

Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Angela Rayner called Mrs Williamson a 'prat' after learning he had been sacked

Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Angela Rayner called Mrs Williamson a ‘prat’ after learning he had been sacked

Born and raised in Scarborough, Mr Williamson went to a local comprehensive school and sixth-form college before studying at the University of Bradford.

His state school background was not enough to win over many teachers, students and parents during the Covid-19 pandemic, which dominated Mr Williamson’s time in office and led to a series of U-turns.

Timeline of catastrophe

  • 2016: As chief whip, Mr Williamson warned unruly MPs that he took a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to discipline in the Commons. He had a pet tarantula called Coronus and was once photographed with a whip on his desk
  • 2017: Appointed Defence Secretary 
  • 2018: Told Russia to ‘go away’ and shut up’ at the height of the Salisbury poisoning in March. The comment came during a question and answer session following the expulsion of Russian intelligence staff from the UK following the nerve agent attack
  • 2018: Risked a diplomatic row with France over the Syria conflict, by saying: ‘What is the point in listening to French politicians?’
  • 2018: Confessed he had cheated on his wife in 2004 by kissing a colleague while working as a manager of a fireplace company
  • 2019: Sacked as Defence Secretary by Theresa May over the leak of sensitive information about phone giant Huawei from the National Security Council – although he has always denied involvement.
  • 2019: Boris Johnson appoints Mr Williamson as Education Secretary
  • 2020: Closes all schools in March due to the Covid pandemic and cancels A-Level and GCSE exams, replacing exam marks with a formula which downgraded thousands of results. He faced calls to resign – and was likened to accident-prone British TV character Frank Spencer – after the Government was forced into a U-turn
  • 2021: Accused of ruining the credibility of this year’s A-Levels after a soaring grade inflation
  • 2021: In an interview with the Evening Standard, Mr Williamson confused Premier League footballer and free school meals campaigner Marcus Rashford with England rugby international Maro Itoje. The then-Education Secretary said he had spoken to Rashford when he had in fact been talking to Itoje
  • 2021: Sacked as Education Secretary in Boris Johnson’s reshuffle 
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News of Mr Williamson’s sacking was welcomed by Labour MPs, with Angela Rayner calling him a ‘prat’.

The Shadow Chancellor of Duchy of Lancaster said: ‘It’s good that Gavin Williamson has been sacked but he should have been sacked over a year ago.

‘That prat’s absolute idiocy, failures and uselessness have damaged the life chances of our country’s children and this government has failed young people, teachers & education staff.’ 

MP Sarah Owen added: ‘Not a mention or thanks to teachers or support staff. Or any humility for putting parents & pupils through hell during the pandemic. If Johnson had a backbone, Gavin Williamson would have gone long before now.’

Talk in Westminster of Mr Williamson’s sacking had been swirling for weeks after being regarded by many as having bungled schools and exams during the pandemic.

Last month he was said to be ‘wetting himself’ over reports that Boris Johnson was lining up his ‘anti-woke’ Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch to replace him in the Cabinet.

He was also given the nickname ‘Private Pike’ by critics who compare him to the hapless young soldier in Dad’s Army.

After it was revealed that A-level grades could be scrapped in a massive overhaul of the education system, which would see the current A*-E letter grades replaced with a numerical system similar to GCSEs, Mr Williamson reportedly told allies ‘he knows where the bodies are’ and that the PM was ‘too weak’ to sack him.

Whether the threat was genuine was questioned by many after he said on live TV that he could not remember his A-Level results.

He was appointed Education Secretary after Boris Johnson’s election as Prime Minister in July 2019.

After closing schools in March 2020 because of Covid, and then cancelling that year’s GCSEs and A-Levels, he faced calls to resign – and was likened to accident-prone British TV character Frank Spencer – after the Government was forced into a U-turn following protests over the downgrading of thousands of results.

He also received criticism over the recovery plan to help pupils catch up and confusion around children returning to class amid Covid-19.

In December, heads and unions were not happy when Mr Williamson threatened legal action against Greenwich council if it failed to keep its schools open to all pupils until the end of term, despite a rise in cases.

Weeks later, the Government announced national school closures.

Mr Williamson also faced calls to step down amid criticism of inadequate free school meal provision for pupils, and again after the schools catch-up tsar resigned over the Government’s £1.4 billion education recovery fund.

Last week, Mr Williamson mistook Rashford for Itoje. He said he had met Rashford via Zoom, but it later transpired it was rugby player Itoje he had spoken to.

In a statement, he said the ‘genuine mistake’ was due to both men having campaigned on children and said he had ‘huge respect’ for them.

But critics branded the mix-up ‘racist’ and pointed out the two have little in common aside from their ethnicity, as some speculated whether the gaffe was the ‘final nail in the coffin’ as he looked set to be replaced as Education Secretary.

After being mistaken for Marcus Rashford, England rugby international Maro Itoje took to social media to clarify he was not the Manchester United and England footballer

After being mistaken for Marcus Rashford, England rugby international Maro Itoje took to social media to clarify he was not the Manchester United and England footballer

After being mistaken for Marcus Rashford, England rugby international Maro Itoje took to social media to clarify he was not the Manchester United and England footballer

Rashford responded before the rest of social media got involved...

Rashford responded before the rest of social media got involved...

Rashford responded before the rest of social media got involved…

Social media poked fun at Gavin Williamson after mistaking Maro Itoje for Marcus Rashford

Social media poked fun at Gavin Williamson after mistaking Maro Itoje for Marcus Rashford

Social media poked fun at Gavin Williamson after mistaking Maro Itoje for Marcus Rashford 

As his time came to an end he declared he was ‘proud’ of his post-16 education reforms ‘despite the challenges’ of the pandemic

It is unclear whether he will take another cabinet role, but Mr Williamson is no stranger to ministerial posts.

Before entering the Cabinet, Mr Williamson was the party’s Chief Whip and tried to cultivate a sinister image with veiled threats to rebellious Tory MPs – accompanied by his pet tarantula Cronus. He also famously was photographed with a whip on his desk.

Mr Williamson, here pictured in his office at the Department of Education, said it had been a 'privilege' to serve as Education Secretary and that he looks forward to 'continuing to support the Prime Minister and the government'

Mr Williamson, here pictured in his office at the Department of Education, said it had been a 'privilege' to serve as Education Secretary and that he looks forward to 'continuing to support the Prime Minister and the government'

Mr Williamson, here pictured in his office at the Department of Education, said it had been a ‘privilege’ to serve as Education Secretary and that he looks forward to ‘continuing to support the Prime Minister and the government’

It was in that role he warned unruly MPs that he took a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to discipline in the Commons.

In 2017, he was appointed Defence Secretary by then-Prime Minister Theresa May following the resignation of Sir Michael Fallon.

At the height of the furore over the Salisbury Novichok attack in March 2018, Mr Williamson urged Russia to ‘go away and shut up’.

In 2018 he risked a diplomatic row with France over the Syria conflict, by saying: ‘What is the point in listening to French politicians?’

The same year he took the unusual step of confessing to cheating on his wife in 2004.

He admitted he kissed a colleague when he worked as a manager at fireplace company but it ‘never went further’.

In May 2019 Theresa May sacked him as Defence Secretary over the leak of sensitive information about phone giant Huawei from the National Security Council – although he has always denied involvement.

Mr Williamson's time as Education Secretary featured a number of gaffes, including mistaking Premier League footballer and school meals campaigner Marcus Rashford with England rugby international Maro Itoje

Mr Williamson's time as Education Secretary featured a number of gaffes, including mistaking Premier League footballer and school meals campaigner Marcus Rashford with England rugby international Maro Itoje

Mr Williamson’s time as Education Secretary featured a number of gaffes, including mistaking Premier League footballer and school meals campaigner Marcus Rashford with England rugby international Maro Itoje

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