Ofqual threatened with legal action over exams contract awarded to company with links to Gove and Cummings

Good Law Project demands action from England's exam regulator

Zoe Tidman
Saturday 22 August 2020 20:34
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Protesters have taken to the streets against this year's exam grading
Protesters have taken to the streets against this year's exam grading

Ofqual has been threatened with legal action over its handing of a contract to a company for work on this year’s exam grading.

Campaigners from the Good Law Project said they would send England’s exam regulator a letter on Sunday, asking them to agree a contract with Public First was unlawful and to terminate it.

If these actions are not taken within two weeks, the non-profit organisation said they would take the issue to the High Court.

Good Law Project’s letter claims the contract was unlawfully granted without any tender process and there was bias in play due to the company owners’ links to Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings.

The contract was first reported in The Guardian, who said Public First had been hired to help the exam regulator with “insight on public opinion for this year’s exam arrangements” and dealing with additional media interest.

A new grading system for qualifications had to be set up this year after exams were cancelled due to coronavirus.

The government announced days after A-level results day that A-level and GCSE students could take teacher-assessed grades, following outcry over tens of thousands of A-level results being moderated down.

An Ofqual spokesperson told The Guardian usual tendering rules did not apply to their contract with Public First “due to the exceptional circumstances presented by the cancellation of exams” and “due to the need to urgently procure the work”.

Good Law Project have said in their letter they believe there was enough time for a procurement process to go ahead after exams were cancelled in March.

Rachel Wolf and James Frayne, the married couple who run Public First, “appear to have close personal and professional connections” with both Mr Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, and Mr Cummings, the UK prime minister’s chief adviser, their letter to Ofqual claims.

They have called for Ofqual to cancel this contract as part of their demands. If they are not satisfied with Ofqual’s actions, they said they would issue judicial review proceedings in the High Court.

Jolyon Maugham, the Good Law Project’s director, said: “We are now aware of three awards of contracts to Public First.

“A river of public money is flowing into a business owned by close associates of the prime minister’s chief political adviser and his Cabinet Office minister – and all without any open, transparent tender process.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson told The Guardian Mr Gove had no involvement in the decision to grant the contract to Public First.

Ofqual, Downing Street and the Cabinet Office have been approached by The Independent. Public First turned down a request for comment.

An Ofqual spokesperson said: “Ofqual will respond to any correspondence in due course, once it has been received.”

A government spokesperson said: “This is categorically untrue. No10 and the Cabinet Office had no involvement in the contract and did not discuss it with Ofqual. It is false to claim otherwise.”

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