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Sacking Gavin Williamson over A-levels row would ‘distract’ from coronavirus school reopening plan, says Matt Hancock

The Health Secretary said his education colleague was doing his best in ‘unprecedented’ circumstances. (Sky)

2 min read

The Government could become “distracted” from reopening schools next month if Education Secretary Gavin Williamson quits over the exam grading fiasco, his Cabinet colleague Matt Hancock has said.

The Health Secretary said the under-fire Mr Williamson had been trying to do his “best in very difficult circumstances”, as he defended the Government’s handling of this year’s A-level and GCSE results.

Boris Johnson is reportedly resisting growing calls for a major autumn Cabinet reshuffle amid Conservative anger at a forced U-turn on the use of a controversial algorithm to grade pupils in the absence of exams.

According to The Telegraph, the Prime Minister will keep Mr Williamson in post despite senior Tories warning of a "lack of grip" from the top of Government.

It comes ahead of the planned reopening of all schools in England from September, something billed as a "national priority" by Mr Johnson.

Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday morning, Mr Hancock said: “These are unprecedented circumstances.

"And I think everybody is working their hardest and trying to do their best in very difficult circumstances.

“And I know that that is true of Gavin Williamson, as it is of all members of the government.
“And the big focus is on getting schools back, and open at the start of next month... [an] incredibly important task. 
“I don't think we should be distracted from that task now — we need to absolutely focus on it.”

The Health Secretary said that while it was important for ministers to be “responsible and accountable” for decisions made on their watch, keeping Mr Williamson in post “the best thing for the country”.

“We've got to get the schools back in two weeks’ time,” Mr Hancock said.

“It’s really important, just so important, for children's education that schools come back in two weeks’ time.”

The defence of the embattled Education Secretary came as the Government was warned not to “scapegoat” officials over the exam grading furore.

Mr Williamson on Tuesday repeatedly refused to back Sally Collier, chief regulator at exams body Ofqual, over its handling of the controversial grading algorithm. 

The Times meanwhile reports that Department for Education permanent secretary Jonathan Slater could face the sack. 

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

Pressed on whether ministers were now distancing themselves from responsibility for their own policies, Mr Hancock told Sky News: “I don't criticise the people who work for me because they're doing their absolute best in very difficult circumstances.”

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