Blame game erupts over A-level fiasco as Gavin Williamson dodges resignation calls

Headteachers say ministers should have been on top as education secretary points finger at regulator

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Tuesday 18 August 2020 19:05 BST
‘All children deserve to be back in school,’ says Gavin Williamson
‘All children deserve to be back in school,’ says Gavin Williamson (Getty)

A blame game erupted on Tuesday over the exam results fiasco as the government pointed the finger at regulators and headteachers called for an independent inquiry.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson four times refused to say whether he had confidence in Sally Collier, the head of exams regulator Ofqual – which was behind the botched algorithm.

But headteachers said ministers themselves should have been on top of the situation and called for an immediate review of the episode.

The education secretary himself dodged questions on breakfast television about whether he should resign, as some Conservatives such as former minister Sir Nicholas Soames have suggested.

“What we’re doing is we’re focusing on delivering the grades for those children,” Mr Williamson said when it was put to him that he should quit.

“We’re going to make sure that all schools are returned and I’m absolutely determined over the coming year that I’m going to be delivering the world’s best education system.”

But Mr Williamson rounded on his civil servants, saying that Ofqual “didn’t deliver” and arguing that its assurances were not matched by “robustness”.

The secretary of state refused three times in the interview to say whether he had offered his resignation to the prime minister.

The Association of School and College leaders wrote to Mr Williamson on Tuesday calling for an inquiry into what went wrong.

“There is an urgent need for the Department for Education to commission an immediate independent review which will rapidly establish exactly what went wrong with the process for awarding grades to A-level and GCSE students this summer, and to publish its findings and recommendations,” Geoff Barton, the organisation’s general secretary, said.

“This degree of transparency is necessary at a time when public confidence has been badly shaken. It seems to be clear that the statistical model for moderating centre-assessed grades was flawed, and that it produced many anomalous results. But how did this happen, why were the problems not foreseen, and why were ministers not on top of this?”

Mr Barton continued: “Most importantly, what lessons can we learn for the future? While the government plans for students to sit GCSEs and A-levels next summer, there is currently no plan B if there is widespread disruption because of coronavirus.

“The government and Ofqual should be putting in place a robust contingency plan, drawing on the lessons from this summer’s debacle.”

Meanwhile Conservative MP Huw Merriman said the government should go further to show it was sorry, telling the BBC: “We should be looking at what their student loan provision is for the year coming in to university. Measures like that will show that we are sorry, and we’re willing to give them something back.”

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