POLITICS
18/08/2020 10:09 BST | Updated 18/08/2020 10:48 BST

Gavin Williamson Spends Morning Refusing To Resign Over Exams 'Mega-Mess'

The education secretary was repeatedly asked by interviewers whether he would step down over the A-levels fiasco.

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Gavin Williamson has repeatedly refused to say whether he will resign over the exams chaos that disproportionately hit poorer teenagers and left thousands of students scrambling for a university place. 

The education secretary was forced into a humiliating U-turn on Monday and allowed grades to be based on teacher assessments. 

It came after a computer algorithm downgraded almost 40% of grades, with disadvantaged students hit harder than those at wealthy private schools. 

In a series of broadcast interviews on Tuesday morning, Williamson apologised to all young people affected by the A-levels crisis but declined to say whether he would stand down. 

He told LBC it was a “tough moment” in his political career, but insisted Boris Johnson – who is currently on holiday in Scotland – did not lose his temper over the U-turn. 

He said: “Obviously it’s not a conversation that you would ever want to do, it’s not a conversation that you ever want to have to say to the prime minister that we’d have to make these significant changes.

“But my belief is if something’s wrong, if something isn’t working, the key thing to do is to fix it. That’s what I did and that’s what I’d always do.”

He added: “The prime minister is a very, very even-tempered person and certainly didn’t lose his temper with me.

“He recognised this was the right thing to do, he agreed with me that it was the right thing to do, that’s why we did it.”

Pressed on BBC Breakfast over whether he would resign, he said there was “total consensus that a moderated system of teacher assessment was the right system”. 

When asked a third time whether he would resign, he replied: “What we’re doing is we’re focusing on delivering the grades for those children.

“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.”

Asked whether the government should have U-turned earlier, Williamson appeared to try and blame Ofqual by saying he had had reassurances the model was fair, adding: “At every stage of the way we’ve worked incredibly closely with Ofqual in terms of questioning and probing and working with them in order to be able to ensure that we have the best system in place.” 

He also acknowledged that universities face challenges as thousands rush to find last-minute places in light of changed results. 

On BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, he again refused to say whether he would resign also, but said: “I’d like to just start off by apologising, saying sorry to all those young people who have been affected by this.

“This is something that, firstly, none of us wanted to see and none of us expected to see.”

When asked if he had confidence in chief regulator Sally Collier, he said: “Well, we’ve worked with Ofqual and at every stage Ofqual have done absolutely everything that they can do to ensure that they have fairness within the system, and (I) continue to work with Ofqual and the head of Ofqual to ensure that we deliver youngsters the grades that they deserve and make sure, as we plan for the next exam season, that we have the right systems in place.”

Tory MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons’ education select committee, described the A-levels crisis as a “mega-mess” and said the problems should be a “massive wake-up call” for the government.

“I want our government to be a government of social justice, of the land of opportunity, of the workers, as the prime minister promised it to be,” he told Good Morning Britain. 

“This has been a mega-mess and should not have happened and (Williamson’s) got to, I think, learn from this and just make sure these kind of things do not happen in the future.”

He added: “I think the lesson of this is you can’t just have technocratic government and government by computer, we’ve got to be a government that empathises with ordinary folk and realise that the decisions that are made affect the lives of thousands of people individually.

“Conservatism is supposed to be about individual effort and achievement, and yet we allowed an organisation, Ofqual, to develop a kind of algorithm that was based on the collective memory of the history of schools rather than recognising genuine individual effort and achievement and that was wrong.”