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Gavin Williamson urged not to blame officials for exams debacle amid reports his top civil servant could be sacked

The Education Secretary has refused to fully back Ofqual. (PA)

3 min read

Gavin Williamson has been warned not to “scapegoat” officials over this year’s exam grading debacle.

The Education Secretary on Tuesday repeatedly refused to back Sally Collier, chief regulator at exams body Ofqual over the row.

And The Times reports that Department for Education permanent secretary Jonathan Slater faces the prospect of being sacked after Mr Williamson was forced to ditch a controversial algorithm used for A-level and GCSE grading which had seen thousands of pupils receive lower-than-expected results.

But former DfE permanent secretary Sir David Bell told the paper that taking aim at officials was “depressing, demotivating and disreputable”.

He added: “In the interests of fairness, natural justice and proper accountability it’s important that there is a proper independent look at what’s happened so everyone concerned can learn lessons. 

“I have great concerns that scapegoating is happening here. I don’t think it’s conducive to good government.”

The defence of the senior education officials came as Conservative MPs stepped up briefings against Ms Collier, who has led Ofqual since 2016.

One senior MP told The Telegraph: "They are bloody useless. The whole organisation is absolutely useless. Ofqual has been a shambles from beginning to end."

And Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP who chairs the cross-party Education Select Committee, said he would “shut the whole place down and start all over again“.

The Harlow MP added: "If they had a shred of decency, every single one of the board, including the chair and chief executive, should resign."

Mr Williamson declined the opportunity to back Ms Collier in a broadcast round on Tuesday morning, and told LBC radio: “We ended up in a situation where Ofqual didn’t deliver the system that we had been reassured... would be in place.”

But he made clear that he personally intended to remain in post, telling the BBC: “I’m determined that over the coming year I’m going to be delivering the world’s best education system.”


The latest polls suggest the row over A-levels has done little to dent the Government’s lead over Labour.

A Savanta Comres study, carried out just ahead of the U-turn on Monday, found the Tories retaining a five point advantage over the opposition, having slipped by one-point in the polls.

Labour remain on 37% while the Liberal Democrats are on 7%.

But the Government’s net favourability rating of -7 is the lowest since the Savanta ComRes tracker began back in May. Boris Johnson’s personal approval ratings remain in negative territory at -1.

Chris Hopkins, Associate Director at Savanta ComRes said: “While the government’s favourability and approval are falling amid departmental fiasco after fiasco – with Education Secretary the latest to come under fire for his handling of exam grading – we’re not seeing much of a movement in our headline voting intention.

“It seems that the current government still have a fair bit of rope with the public yet and, while we’re still the political equivalent of eons away from another election, there must be confidence that the current set of ministers – including the PM – can reverse the increasingly negative sentiment before it affects voting behaviour.”

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