Gavin Williamson’s Disasterclass

In another embarrassing U-turn for the Government Gavin Williamson has been forced to abandon the “unfair” exam algorithm used by Ofqual which downgraded 40% of A-level results in England. Instead, after much undue stress, upset and turmoil, students will now be awarded their teacher predicted grades after all. Although the move will be welcomed by all those students who were downgraded, the practical nightmare now faced by university admissions teams has only just begun. In what can only be described as this Government’s biggest failure to date it is difficult to understand how this wasn’t avoided in the first place.

Schools have remained a hot topic throughout these last few months. Like a political football, the issue surrounding when schools should open again was kicked between the aisles of the commons at every PMQ’s up until the summer recess. Then it was the issue of free school meals which the Government had initially refused to provide, but after the growing public outcry and pressure from England football star Marcus Rashford they eventually U-turned. Now the debacle surrounding A-level results had laid bare the sheer ineptitude of the Education Secretary and the callousness of this Government.

But were we to expect anything better from Gavin Williamson? Lets not forget that he was sacked as Theresa May’s defence secretary for leaking information from the National Security Council. Not exactly the brightest tool in the box then, but I suppose that is a hallmark of this Johnson Government.

I’ll be honest, I did feel a little sorry for him. He only had five months to come up with a solution to this completely avoidable issue, and it was only 2 months ago that the Education Select Committee warned how the Ofqual algorithm “could be unfair for disadvantaged pupils”. But jokes aside, what on earth has he been doing leading up to this moment?

Moreover, should we really have expected better from this Government? I mean, they have already failed abysmally to protect the care homes from Covid-19, they have failed to protect the economy from a recession, so why not fail the school leavers for good measure?

It’s almost as if catchy slogans, simplistic populist policy solutions and a cabinet chosen purely on Brexit loyalty doesn’t quite have the ability to deal with sensitive and complex problems, right?

Fortunately, school leavers have now been granted their teacher predicted grades, but that’s not to say the stress of this ordeal will be over anytime soon. It is still unclear whether students who were initially rejected from their first choice universities will even have a place now that they have their improved grades. With an increase in students getting their required grades, universities face the mammoth task of placing them in accommodation and enrolling them in courses all during the current strains of a pandemic. Owing to issues surrounding course capacity and access to facilities I suspect many students will unfortunately now have their places postponed to 2021.

England was not alone in misjudging the effectiveness of the Ofqual algorithm, only last week the SNP had to return to teacher predicated grades after 124,564 student were downgraded. Soon after, both Ireland and Wales announced they would be scrapping the algorithm in favour of teacher predicted grades before any turmoil could ensue. Herein lies a major problem with Johnson’s Government, and it’s one which seems endemic in their approach all things Covid-19 related, where others foresee a problem and quickly rectify it, Gavin Williamson et al always seem to be stuck in the mud, unable to react quick enough despite ample warning.

This incident has, quite clearly, highlighted that your postcode and your parents income remain key indicators of how successful you will perform in school, and that this country still has a long way to go to ensure disadvantaged and minority pupils don’t continue to fall between the cracks in an already unequal playing field. But, perhaps most starkly, this incident has proven that the Prime Minister and his Education Secretary were all too happy to support an algorithm which inflated grades for private schools while slashing futures at their state counterparts all because it was deemed “robust” – doesn’t sound like a ‘levelling up agenda’ to me.

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