DfE Covid lockdown party may have gone on past 1am

Staff swiped out of Sanctuary Buildings 34 times after 10am on night of party, 8 times after 1am

Staff swiped out of Sanctuary Buildings 34 times after 10am on night of party, 8 times after 1am

Exclusive

Gavin Williamson’s much-criticised Covid lockdown Christmas party at the Department for Education’s headquarters could have gone on until past 1am, “deeply concerning” new documents suggest.

An official inquiry into Covid get-togethers within the government said the “festive drinks” on December 10, 2020, lasted for about an hour until 6pm. Then-education secretary Williamson provided wine and mince pies for as many as 30 attendees.

London was in tier 2 lockdown at the time. Gatherings of two or more people indoors were banned unless of an exception such as a gathering being “reasonably necessary for work purposes”.

FE Week’s sister publication Schools Week asked the Cabinet Office for data on the number of times staff swiped out of the department’s security barriers that night, and the seven previous nights.

It showed that staff swiped out of Sanctuary Buildings 34 times after 10pm on the night of the party. Eight of those were after 1am.

The next highest was nine swipes on Thursday 9, and then five on Thursday 3. Four of the days had zero swipes in that time period.

‘Deeply concerning’

A Liberal Democrats spokesperson said the findings were “deeply concerning and urgent clarification is needed on the extent of this party, which took place while teachers, parents and children were still suffering from constant disruption and uncertainty”.

Acland Hood

The DfE said this week the gathering lasted an hour before “individuals dispersed and/or left the building”.

Susan Acland-Hood, the DfE permanent secretary, had told MPs in 2021 that about “two dozen” people attended.

But the DfE said swipes do not record individuals leaving. Staff can leave for food or a cigarette, for instance, and then return. They would also include 24-hour cleaning and security staff.

Late access to the building was commonplace during Covid too, the department said.

Asked whether the 2022 inquiry into lockdown parties led by Sue Gray was aware of this data, the DfE said the team had access to records deemed relevant and were able to speak to members of staff.

The Metropolitan Police did not investigate the party. The DfE repeated that the gathering to “thank staff for their efforts … should never have happened”.

Williamson is one of the few big-name Conservative MPs standing at the general election and set to keep their seat. He did not respond to a request for comment.

The government originally refused to release the swipe card data, arguing that it would be a risk to national security and could “enable a hostile actor to determine patterns of movement by staff in and out of the building”.

But the Information Commissioner’s Office backed our appeal. They said the likelihood of anyone being able to determine patterns of movement today are “so remote as to be irrelevant”.

Latest education roles from

Design and Technology Technician

Design and Technology Technician

Kingswood Academy

Learning Resource Centre Assistant

Learning Resource Centre Assistant

Hull College

Course Leader – Electrical Installation

Course Leader – Electrical Installation

Bridgwater & Taunton College

Lecturer Carpentry

Lecturer Carpentry

Bridgwater & Taunton College

Software Developer

Software Developer

Gateshead College

Head of Langdon College (London)

Head of Langdon College (London)

Kisharon Langdon

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

#GE2024: Listen now as Let’s Go Further outlines the FE and skills priorities facing our new government

The Skills and Education Group podcast, Let’s Go Further, aims to challenge the way we all think about skills...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, colleges and schools can be confident that learners...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

Why we’re backing our UK skills ‘Olympians’ (and why you should too)

This August, teams from over 200 nations will gather to compete in the sticky heat of the Paris summer...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

Is your organisation prepared for a major incident?

We live in an unpredictable world where an unforeseen incident or environmental event could disrupt a Further Education (FE)...

Advertorial

More from this theme

Covid-19

EPI warns of widening disadvantage gap for 16-19 learners

Report prompts renewed calls for 16-19 pupil premium equivalent

Jason Noble
Covid-19

Just £9m of adult education and non-levy apprenticeship relief funding released

Training providers were handed less than £9 million as part of a relief scheme to support adult education courses...

Billy Camden
Covid-19

Williamson provided wine and mince pies for DfE lockdown Xmas party

Sue Gray report finds 50 staff were invited to the 'festive drinks' - organised days in advance

Samantha Booth
Covid-19

Stressed and nervous but determined to prove themselves: the students sitting exams for the first time 

John Dickens, editor of FE Week’s sister publication Schools Week, joined Ofqual chief regulator Dr Jo Saxton as her...

John Dickens

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 Comments

  1. Phillip Hatton

    No one is surprised although I know from contacts in the DFE that some felt pressurised to attend. Williamson was one of the most unpopular ministers wherever he went so not just breaking the rules of lockdown. Not sure that Labour will make our lot in learning and skills much better but would be difficult to make it worse.