Gavin Williamson U-turns to offer full support to Ofqual

Has Boris FINALLY read the riot act to Gavin ‘Private Pike’ Williamson? Education Secretary mysteriously U-turns to ‘offer full support to Ofqual’ – 24-hours after laying blame for A-levels chaos at its door

  • Gavin Williamson today gave his full backing to under-fire exam regulator Ofqual
  • Yesterday the Education Secretary had blamed Ofqual for A-level results chaos
  • Mr Williamson under pressure to resign over his handling of exam results crisis
  • Boris Johnson facing calls to pause holiday to take personal control of situation 

Gavin Williamson today gave his full backing to Ofqual just one day after blaming the exam regulator for the Government’s A-level results chaos.  

The Department for Education said in a statement issued this afternoon that ‘we have full confidence in Ofqual and its leadership’. 

Mr Williamson had said yesterday the regulator ‘didn’t deliver’ the grading system the Government had been ‘reassured’ would be in place after exams were cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The dramatic change in tone is likely to spark speculation that the under-fire Education Secretary has been read the riot act by Boris Johnson who is currently on holiday in Scotland. 

There are growing calls for Mr Williamson to quit over his handling of the results row but he has made clear he wants to stay in the role long into the future. 

During a series of interviews the Cabinet minister had failed to give his unequivocal backing to Ofqual. 

But with less than 24 hours to go until students receive their GCSE results, Mr Williamson’s department signalled a change in tack. 

It said: ‘As the Government has made clear, we have full confidence in Ofqual and its leadership in their role as independent regulator and we continue to work closely with Ofqual to deliver fair results for our young people at this unprecedented time.’

The department’s statement also suggested the U-turn over exam results which saw a controversial algorithm ditched in favour of teacher predicted grades was ultimately decided by Ofqual rather than the Education Secretary. 

‘The decision they took to move from moderated grades to centre assessed grades was one that we agreed with,’ the department said. 

It came as Mr Johnson faced growing pressure from his own MPs to cut short his holiday to take personal control of the Government’s education omnishambles. 

Gavin Williamson, pictured in London this morning, is under pressure over his handling of the A-level results debacle 

Boris Johnson is facing calls from Tory MPs to pause his holiday in Scotland to take charge of the results crisis 

The Prime Minister is not expected to return to Number 10 until next week but the debacle surrounding A-level and GCSE exam results means he is under pressure to intervene.  

Mr Johnson’s political opponents have called for him to return early as they claimed the PM ‘cannot be bothered to get back to work during the biggest exams crisis in a generation’. 

Calls for Mr Williamson to resign continue to grow, just weeks before schools in England are due to return full-time. 

Tory MPs are increasingly worried about the Government’s handling of the results fiasco and see it as being the latest in a long line of unforced errors during the coronavirus crisis.  

One senior Tory MP told MailOnline ‘there is no question’ that Mr Johnson should be ‘showing his face’ during the crisis. 

‘I can see why he would not want to be around so that Gavin Williamson takes all of the flack but it would steady the ship a bit if he did pop up,’ they said. 

Acting leader of the Lib Dems, Sir Ed Davey, said: ‘On the steps of Downing Street the PM said it was his job to close the opportunity gap and that when it came to delivering on his plans that the buck stops with him.

‘The Prime Minister cannot expect us to take his words seriously if he cannot be bothered to get back to work during the biggest exams crisis in a generation.

‘Universities are struggling and thousands of students still have no idea where they will be in the Autumn, the PM needs to take accountability for this awful mess.’   

Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders had earlier likened the PM to the famous ‘Where’s Wally’ character, telling the Daily Star: ‘Where’s Wally? More like where is THE wally?’ 

Demands for the PM to cancel his holiday have also swept social media as Twitter users used ‘Where’s Boris’ and ‘Boris Has Failed Britain’ hashtags to criticise him for his absence. 

Mr Johnson is said to have been spotted wearing a bobble hat and sunglasses in Scotland, in an apparent effort to avoid being recognised as he holidays with partner Carrie Symonds amid the ongoing exams crisis.  

Despite the growing Tory unease about the performance of some Cabinet ministers, Mr Johnson is said to be resisting calls for an autumn reshuffle with a major shake-up of his top team likely to be delayed until the new year. 

Youth protests in front of the Department for Education on August 16. Nearly 280,000 students saw their A-Level grades downgraded by a government algorithm 

The results row unfolded after A-level grades were calculated using an algorithm developed by Ofqual. 

But the algorithm meant 40 per cent of grades were downgraded from what teachers had predicted, prompting widespread student and parent fury. 

Mr Williamson, known by some in Westminster as Private Pike after the hapless character in the TV show Dad’s Army, had originally backed the algorithm but then earlier this week performed a U-turn as he said grades would be based on teacher estimates instead.   

Speaking to LBC Radio yesterday, the Education Secretary blamed Ofqual for the chaos.  

When it was put to him that Ofqual had ‘failed’, Mr Williamson said: ‘We ended up in a situation where Ofqual didn’t deliver the system that we had been reassured and believed that would be in place.’

Asked if he had confidence in the regulator, Mr Williamson said: ‘It is quite clear that there have been some real challenges in terms of what Ofqual have been able to deliver.’

And asked if he had confidence in chief regulator Sally Collier, Mr Williamson said: ‘Our focus and what I expect from Ofqual is to ensure that they deliver the grades that youngsters need over… this week and over the next few weeks and ensure that the appeals process is properly managed and people get the grades that they’ve worked towards and that they deserve.’ 

Mr Williamson’s hopes of clinging on were given a boost this morning after he was defended by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.  

Asked if he would have considered resigning if he was in Mr Williamson’s shoes, Mr Hancock told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘Well, I think that Gavin has faced these very difficult challenges and done his best in very difficult circumstances.’  

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