Boris Johnson claims A-Level and GCSE results crisis was caused by ‘a mutant algorithm’
Boris Johnson thanked the students for their "patience" amid the closure of schools (@10DowningStreet/Twitter)
Boris Johnson has suggested the confusion over A-Level and GCSE grade estimates in recent weeks was due to a “mutant algorithm”.
Speaking to Year 11 pupils at Castle Rock High School in Leicestershire, he acknowledged that the process must have been “stressful” for those involved.
And he thanked the teenagers for their “patience”, and for their part in bringing infection rates of Covid-19 “under control”.
The Prime Minister then attempted to reassure the teenagers—who had come back to school for the first time on Wednesday—that it was “safe” for them to return.
Mr Johnson’s appearance comes a day after ministers backtracked on advice that masks were not necessary in school communal areas, allowing school leaders to decide if they should be worn on a case-by-case basis in the majority of areas.
The decision marked the third major u-turn by the Government in recent months, after it reversed its decision not to provide free school meals over the summer holidays, and decided to allow teacher predictions for exam results.
On Tuesday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson also faced renewed calls to quit over his role in the exams chaos after Ofqual chief regulator Sally Collier chose to step down in the wake of criticism.
Labour said ministers had "washed their hands of blame" following her resignation, accusing them of treating the regulator as a "fall guy".
But addressing the students, Mr Johnson instead placed the blame on the "mutant algorithm" which had been used to estimate results.
“You couldn’t sit your exams which you yearned to do and, I’m afraid, your grades were almost derailed by a mutant algorithm, and I know how stressful that must have been for pupils up and down the country," he said.
"And I’m very, very glad it’s finally been sorted out.
“But I just wanted to say thank you to all of you, therefore, for your patience and your efforts, because it has been worth it.”
“And, of course, we've always got to be vigilant. We've got to follow the guidance about beating Covid—number one, wash your hands. But it's thanks to you that we have the disease under control.”
The PM continued: “The risk to your health is not from COVID—because after all, statistically speaking, your chances of suffering from that disease are very, very low.”
“The greatest risk you face now is of continuing to be out of school.
“And that's not just because school is safe—though it is—or healthy—though of course it is.
“It's not just because you have your friends and activities and sport here at school. It's because from now on, getting back into school, in the hours and days and weeks of this new term, you will experience things with an intensity and clarity, believe me, that is seldom repeated in your lives.”
But National Education Union boss Kevin Courtney branded the PM's comments as "brazen", claiming he was trying to "idly shrug away a disaster that his own Government created".
He said: "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."
Meanwhile, Labour's Kate Green said: "Boris Johnson is shamelessly trying to avoid taking responsibility for the exams fiasco that his government created."
The Shadow Education Secretary added: "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.”