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Sun, 27 September 2020

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Labour demand Gavin Williamson be 'held responsible for exam fiasco' after Ofqual chief Sally Collier quits

Labour demand Gavin Williamson be 'held responsible for exam fiasco' after Ofqual chief Sally Collier quits

Gavin Williamson is facing calls to quit over his handling of A-level and GCSE exams

4 min read

Labour have demanded that Gavin Williamson be "held responsible” for the exams grading row following the resignation of Ofqual chief Sally Collier.

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said the regulator had been treated as the "fall guy" for England's exam fiasco as she accused ministers of "washing their hands of blame".

Ms Collier announced her resignation on Tuesday following anger over a controversial algorithm which resulted in almost 40% of students' grades being downgraded in the absence of exams cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Williamson, who has already apologised to students for "distress" caused by the handling, has refused to comment on reports that he had offered his resignation to Boris Johnson but was rejected.

But Ms Green said parents and teachers would expect ministers and not just officials to "take responsibility" for the exams chaos.

"I don't think the fall guy should have been Ofqual, they've got questions to answer, but ultimately the responsibilty for this exam fiasco sits fair and square with ministers," she told Sky News.

"Ministers who were warned as we now know several weeks ago about the problems with the algorithm that Ofqual was proposing to use, an algorithm Ofqual had designed to meet the instructions they had had from ministers.

"Now ministers appear to be trying to wash their hands of blame and trying to push it off onto Ofqual.

"I think students, their parents and teachers will see straight through that. They will expected the Government to take responsibility for the fiasco."

But Ms Green stopped short of calling for Mr Williamson to resign from his role, saying instead that she planned to probe the Government over their decisions when MPs return to parliament next month.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran said the Education Secretary had "lost the trust" of pupils and should step down.

"It is incredibly disappointing that Gavin Williamson has refused to take responsibility for the combination of initial school return failure and the more recent exam fiasco and has instead allowed to let someone else take the blame," she said.

"He has lost the trust of students, parents and teachers who he failed to consult, leaving universities and colleges in chaos.

"Meanwhile the Prime Minister is still yet to apologise for the stress and harm his government caused to students, parents and teachers.

"Gavin Williamson is simply not the person the deliver a safe return to schools and must resign."

HALFON: IS OFQUAL FIT FOR PURPOSE?

Tory MP and Education Committee chairman Rob Halfon — whose cross-party group was set to quiz Ms Collier next week - told PoliticsHome he was “surprised” at the timing of the chief regulator's exit.

He said: “On a human level, it’s clearly very tough for her and she’s a dedicated public servant and it’s not a nice thing to happen to anyone and I wish her well in whatever she does.”

But said Ofqual now faced questions over whether the organisation is “fit for purpose”. 

Mr Halfon asked: “Should it just be reintegrated back into the department? Because they’re supposed to be an independent regulator but clearly the decision-making appears to have become a big mess. 

“How are they going to steady the ship? What are they going to do to avoid a repeat performance? Are they going to answer the questions that our select committee and others have legitimately been asking?”

Asked whether Mr Williamson himself should take responsibility for the row as Labour and the Lib Dems have argued, Mr Halfon said: “These are the questions that I want my committee to find out. My committee is not a Stalinist show trial sending people to the gallows — my committee is there to find out what goes on. But I’m certainly not calling for anybody to resign.”

Pressed on whether Ofqual could rebuild trust under new leadership, the Education Committee chairman said: “They have to. They have to show they’re fit for purpose. We need to know is it still a genuinely independent regulator or not.

"They need to communicate much better because the communication has been a bit of a disaster. And they explain what went wrong and why.”

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