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Sat, 28 November 2020

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Gavin Williamson says he is ‘absolutely determined’ to stay on as poll reveals four in ten think Education Secretary should quit over A-levels crisis

Gavin Williamson says he is ‘absolutely determined’ to stay on as poll reveals four in ten think Education Secretary should quit over A-levels crisis

Gavin Williamson has said he is ‘determined’ to focus on his work as Education Secretary. (PA)

3 min read

Gavin Williamson has said he is “absolutely determined” to continue his work as Education Secretary “over the coming year” as he faces calls to quit over his handling of a major exams grading row.

The Cabinet minister told BBC Breakfast he was “focused on delivering the grades” for children after a U-turn over the system used to award this year’s A-Level and GCSE grades.

But he declined to say whether he had offered Boris Johnson his resignation as a snap poll suggested the overwhelming majority of the public think the Government has handled this summer’s exam crisis badly.

Mr Williamson announced on Monday that a controversial algorithm used to calculate this summer’s A-Level and GCSE grades would be ditched and replaced by teacher assessments amid a major backlash from pupils, teachers, and senior Conservatives.

Pressed repeatedly on whether he had offered to quit in the wake of the row, Mr Williamson told the BBC: “Of course I spoke with the Prime Minister explained the situation, the fact that we needed to move to central assess grades, because we thought it was the fairest system and the right system to do.

“But my focus is making sure that every student gets the grades that they deserve, making sure that we deliver a return of all children back to school in September and ensuring that we continue on our agenda that we were given a mandate for back in December: to make sure that we level up standards right across the country, driving standards in education."

He vowed: “That's my focus. That's what I'm going to be doing.“

Asked again if he would resign, Mr Williamson said: “What we're doing is we're focused on delivering the grades for those children. 

“We're going to make sure that all schools return [in September].

“And I'm absolutely determined, over the coming year, that I'm going to be delivering the world's best education system.

“The improvements and reforms that we've made on over the last 10 years, they need to be built on, that's what our focus is, on that's what my focus is on, and that's what the Prime Minister's focus is on.”

POLL PRESSURE

The comments come after a YouGov survey revealed that 40% of the public think Mr Williamson should resign, with just one in five saying he should remain in his post.

Pollsters asked Brits how they felt the Government had handled the exam situation, with 75% saying they have done badly, and just 6% said they had dealt with it well.

That includes 69% of Tory voters, after a number of senior party MPs went public with their criticism of the way marks were downgraded.

Following the U-turn, Conservative former minister George Freeman MP suggested Mr Williamson could pay for the fiasco.

He told Times Radio: ”Ultimately, the Prime Minister is in charge. 

“And I think he will want to take firm control of this and get a grip and show that his government is taking the life chances of a generation of children seriously.

“I'm told the Prime Minister's planning to reshuffle in the autumn, and I dare say he wants to take everything into account.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the decision to ditch the algorithm was a victory for pupils, and said “the Tories’ handling of this situation has been a complete fiasco”.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran said Boris Johnson “must show leadership and personally apologise for his Government's shambles”, while the SNP's education spokesperson Carol Monaghan MP said Gavin Williamson should “reflect on his ill-advised comments" about the Scottish Government's handling of its own exams row.

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