Pressure over A-level grades mounts as Gavin Williamson faces calls to resign

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Pressure is mounting on the government over its handling of the exams system after thousands of pupils in England had their results downgraded.

It comes as protesters gathered outside Downing Street on 14 August calling for education secretary Gavin Williamson to be sacked.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has insisted that he has confidence in Williamson and described the system as “robust”.

Gavin Williamson
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has faced calls to resign (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

On 14 August, Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Education Committee, expressed concern that the model used by Ofqual to moderate A-level results penalised disadvantaged students.

He called on the regulator to publish details of the algorithm it used to make its calculations.

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“I am worried about it because some figures suggest that disadvantaged students have been penalised again,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.

“I am also worried about further education colleges because they have been improving in recent years and yet they seem also to have suffered under this grading system.

“If the model has penalised disadvantaged groups this is very serious and if it has disadvantaged colleges that has to be looked at. Ofqual will have to adjust the grades.”

Ofqual has said that a “rare few centres” put in “implausibly high judgments”, and said that an appeals process is in place to correct any mistakes.

Halfon added that the appeals system needed to be broadened so that every student who felt they had lost out could use it.

“We have to have a wider appeals system, a quick appeals system that is for everyone, not just the sharp-elbowed and well-heeled,” he said.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green warned there could be a “deluge” of appeals from students unhappy with their A-level results.

She said it may prove impossible to get them all processed in time for students to take up their university places.

Green told The World At One: “I am concerned that if we have a deluge of appeals, which I think is quite likely given the fiasco we have seen over the last day-and-a-half, there just won’t be time for students to have those appeals processed and completed, and universities will fill up those places.”

She added: “As a one-off measure this year, we have to do something for these young people, otherwise we are writing them off for the whole of their life chances.

“I think it is right that this year we take exceptional measures, give those young people every possible opportunity to progress with their lives and make use of teacher assessments where we can’t be confident that the algorithm and the government’s model has delivered fairness to very, very large numbers of students.”

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Layla Moran called for Williamson to step down from his role with immediate effect.

“The shambolic handling of A-level results has left many young people in crisis,” she said.

“Gavin Williamson is an education secretary out of his depth and out of excuses. He must take responsibility for his mistakes and step down with immediate effect.

“Our young people and our country cannot afford these blunders to continue into September, ahead of a potential second wave.”

SNP MP Pete Wishart also added his party’s voice to calls for Williamson to step down. He tweeted: “I am going to write to the Speaker to see if Parliament can be recalled.

“We need to hear from the Education Secretary on the exam crisis in England and to offer the opportunity to my English colleagues (and to Scottish Conservative MPs) to seek his resignation.”

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  • Show Comments
    1. What does Gavin Williams really mean when he suggests there are teachers who would deliberately upgrade lots of non deserving students? Well, first, let’s understand that we see other people with the eyes that we have in ou head. He is looking at these teachers by his standards. i.e. No ethics. Secondly, is he suggesting that the teaching profession as a whole has no ethics. or does he just mean everyone (students) have to suffer because one or two teachers may have no ethics. Resigning is the minimum professional posture in the face of the current chaos. Will he? Highly unlikely if advisers and other cabinet members are anything to go by. Who should all be tarred with the same brush? The teachers? Or the póliticians?

    2. Ever since the mid-1980s the Tories have skewed public education towards a ‘piece-rate’ system. Payment by results rather than adequate financing. Thus they created the conditions that encourage the possibility of ‘unethical embellishment’. This is a class based action that will naturally benefit privately educated kids who already benefit from the natural nepotism of any social group. Perhaps white kids who are not of the class of people who gain favoured status by virtue of the private school they attend will gain some insight into their social status from direct experience of people who are subect to this sort of discrimination 24/7.
      “As Akala, a leading black rapper and author, writes in his book Natives, in the context of race: “A few successful black people also do very little to alter the race-class dynamics of the UK, and can even help to cement it. These successes can and will be used… to beat other poor people that ‘didn’t make it’ over the head. They can be used to pretend that the system is just and there are enough seats at the table – ‘if you just work hard and pull your socks up you can be like me’ – rather than simply being honest about the way things actually work.”” – from a Byline Times article ( The same thing happens across the racial divides fostered by our unequal society. To quote some of the trolls: So what’s new or more specifically so bear’s shit in the woods… SNAFU

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