UK education secretary under pressure to quit over A-levels ‘fiasco’

Gavin Williamson criticised as almost 40% of students have grades adjusted downwards

Olivia Welsh with her mother Alex after receiving her A-level results  on Thursday at Lewes Old Grammar School in England. Photograph: Andrew Hasson/Getty Images

Olivia Welsh with her mother Alex after receiving her A-level results on Thursday at Lewes Old Grammar School in England. Photograph: Andrew Hasson/Getty Images

 

UK education secretary Gavin Williamson is facing increasing pressure over his department’s mishandling of this summer’s school exam results in England, with the Liberal Democrats calling on him to resign and Labour demanding that the results be replaced by teacher assessments.

Layla Moran, the Lib Dems’ education spokeswoman, said Mr Williamson should go because of the disruption caused when thousands of students were given lower grades than expected on Thursday.

She said Mr Williamson had “pushed ahead with plans which ignored teachers’ advice”, and she also cited previous blunders over free school meals and IT provision during the lockdown.

“Gavin Williamson is an education secretary out of his depth and out of excuses,” she said. “He must take responsibility for his mistakes and step down with immediate effect. Our young people and our country cannot afford these blunders to continue into September ahead of a potential second wave.”

Ofqual, the exam regulator for England, designed the grades system around schools’ previous results, resulting in nearly 40 per cent of grades assessed by teachers being downgraded by the statistical model.

Private schools disproportionately benefited while pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were treated more harshly, prompting the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to publicly intervene.

Students reported losing places at universities, while a string of college principals and head teachers reported results dramatically lower than past exam performance.

Scotland

Mr Williamson has ruled out following the example of Scotland, which on Tuesday scrapped the results produced by its statistical model and said it would use teacher assessments to replace the exams cancelled during the coronavirus lockdown.

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, called on the government to scrap Ofqual’s “fatally flawed” system.

“Across the last 24 hours we have heard heartbreaking stories and the scale of the injustice caused by the fatally flawed results system has become clear,” he said.

“The unprecedented and chaotic circumstances created by the government’s mishandling of education during recent months mean that a return to teacher assessments is now the best option available. No young person should be at a detriment due to government incompetence.

“Time is running out. We need action in days, not weeks. That also means an urgent technical review of the standardisation model ahead of GCSE results next week. We need to end this fiasco.”

He accused the schools minister, Nick Gibb, of “grossly misleading” students after he promised that any downgrades would be “by just one grade”. Figures from Ofqual showed that about 24,000 results were lowered by more than one grade.

Tory MPs also criticised Mr Williamson’s handling of the controversy and his abrupt announcement that students could use results from mock exams to appeal.

One MP told the Daily Telegraph: “He’s clearly seen the chaos in Scotland and is trying to move to prevent that scenario. Instead he’s just made himself look panicky and incompetent. In short, he’s justifying his own sacking. – Guardian