Johnson Reportedly to Allow ‘Asleep at the Switch’ Williamson to Retain Post Despite A-Levels Fiasco

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by Svetlana Ekimenko

In an about-face announced on Monday by Ofqual, the exam regulator for England, A-level and GCSE students in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland will receive exam grades predicted by their teachers instead of those awarded by a controversial algorithm.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will reportedly allow Gavin Williamson to remain in his post despite a chorus of voices from Conservative MPs calling for the Education Secretary’s resignation, reports The Times.

Johnson has been fending off a torrent of criticism from colleagues after he was forced to make a U-turn over the A-level grading system that led to students across the country seeing their grades slip lower from what their teachers had predicted, upending their hopes of entering the universities of their choice.

The indignation of students, whose exams were cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown measures, as well as their parents and teachers, had translated into protests demanding a reversal of the policy.

On Monday, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) announced that A-level and GCSE students in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland would be given the exam grades predicted by their teachers instead of those awarded by a controversial algorithm that had triggered the grading fiasco.

As a way of assuaging the public and restoring confidence, Tory MPs were reported to have privately suggested that Gavin Williamson should be sacked.

“The problem with Gavin is he’s ineffectual. If you had someone strong they would have challenged this sooner”, a source is quoted as remarking, while others were claimed to have said that Williamson had been “asleep at the switch”.

Tory MP George Freeman summarised Downing Street’s handling of A-level and GCSE grading amidst the pandemic as a “total shambles” and hinted that Williamson might be on his way out.

“I’m told the prime minister’s planning to reshuffle in the autumn, and I dare say he wants to take everything into account”, Freeman was cited by the publication as saying.

Other government sources, however, suggested Williamson, who became Defence Secretary in 2017 but was dismissed in May 2019 after a leak from the National Security Council, in which he denied involvement, would stay on.

“Gavin was with the prime minister from the start”, a source was quoted as saying, underscoring that the PM valued loyalty.

David Davis, a former cabinet minister, also adhered to the opinion that the Education Secretary would not be removed.

“Different MPs have seen different priorities… Some wanted to see us hold the line on grade inflation, others wanted us to relax it. There is not a monolith of Tory MPs calling for the head of any secretary of state”.

Another Conservative MP was cited as similarly hinting that Williamson, MP for South Staffordshire, who was chief whip in 2016-17, would stay on.

“This is a government that will never be bullied into anything. I expect to see [Mr Williamson] there in the next week and the next week. The prime minister is not going to be bounced”, said the Tory source.

On Monday, Downing Street insisted that Boris Johnson still has confidence in the Education Secretary and Ofqual chief Sally Collier.

“The whole government has been working hard to come up with the fairest possible system for pupils”, said a Number 10 spokesperson.

Amid the grading scandal, a survey by YouGov is reported as showing that 40 percent of the public believes the Education Secretary should resign, while 21 percent thought he should remain in the role.

Among those polled, three quarters agreed that the government had mishandled the A-level results issue, as opposed to 6 percent saying it had been handled well.

Sputnik

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