PM Sacks Top Education Official After Exams Fiasco – While Gavin Williamson Keeps Job

"The buck stops with Williamson. Sooner or later, he has to go too," a Labour frontbencher said.

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Boris Johnson has sacked the top official at the Department for Education after the exams fiasco – as embattled education secretary Gavin Williamson keeps his job.

Permanent secretary Jonathan Slater will step down on September 1 after the “prime minister concluded that there is a need for fresh official leadership” in the department, the DfE said.

It comes after the head of England’s exam regulator, Ofqual, Sally Collier quit over thousands of pupils’ marks being unfairly downgraded by an algorithm, costing many A-level students their university places.

Williamson has faced pressure to quit, including from several of his own Tory MPs.

But he remains in post as education secretary despite two U-turns in as many weeks – firstly allowing students to use teacher predicted grades instead of those generated by the algorithm; and secondly changing guidance to recommend face masks for secondary pupils in schools in locked down areas of England, which has reignited calls for him to go.

Labour MPs criticised Williamson for failing to take responsibility.

Shadow minister Bill Esterson insisted “the buck stops” with Williamson and “sooner or later, he has to go too”.

West Streeting described it as a “sorry state of affairs”.

Earlier on Wednesday, Williamson was asked whether he saw himself in the job in a year’s time.

“I love this job,” he replied on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The prime minister then attempted to blame a “mutant algorithm” for the exams fiasco, as he addressed.

Addressing pupils at a school in Coalville, Leicestershire, Johnson acknowledged that the situation had been “stressful” for those awaiting A-level and GCSE results.

“I’m afraid your grades were almost derailed by a mutant algorithm,” he told them.

“I know how stressful that must have been for pupils up and down the country.

“I’m very, very glad that it has finally been sorted out.”

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “Boris Johnson is shamelessly trying to avoid taking responsibility for the exams fiasco that his government created.

“Responsibility for this shambles lies squarely with Downing Street and the Department for Education, who set out how they wanted the algorithm to work and were warned weeks in advance of issues, but repeatedly refused to address the problems they had created.

“It is this Tory government’s incompetence that is to blame for the exams fiasco.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “It is brazen of the prime minister to idly shrug away a disaster that his own government created.

“Parents, students, teachers and heads will be horrified to see the leader of this country treat his own exams fiasco like some minor passing fad.

“The public will not easily forget the emotional rollercoaster of this year’s results season. It is certain to put a long-lasting dent in the government’s reputation on education.”

Slater will be replaced by his de facto deputy Susan Acland-Hood, who will take over as acting permanent secretary. A permanent successor will be appointed “in the coming weeks”, the government said.

A statement posted on the website said: “The prime minister has concluded that there is a need for fresh official leadership at the Department for Education.

“Jonathan Slater has therefore agreed that he will stand down on September 1, in advance of the end of his tenure in spring 2021.

“Susan Acland-Hood, currently interim second permanent secretary, will take over as acting permanent secretary.

“A permanent successor to replace Jonathan Slater will be appointed in the coming weeks.

“The cabinet secretary would like to put on record his thanks to Jonathan for 35 years of public service, culminating in over four years as permanent secretary of the Department for Education.”


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