Boris Johnson 'didn’t lose his temper with me' over A-level fiasco, says Education Secretary

18 August 2020, 09:31

How was Gavin Williamson's conversation with PM over A-levels U-turn?

By Megan White

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has insisted the Prime Minister “certainly didn’t lose his temper” with him over the A-levels U-turn.

Boris Johnson had previously defended the “robust” grading system, but Mr Williamson said the PM agreed changing the results was “the right thing to do.”

The Education Secretary has come under huge pressure over the Government's decision to perform a u-turn to allow GCSE and A-level results in England to be based on teachers' predicted grades.

Read more: What does the Government U-turn on A-level and GCSE exam results mean for students?

Read more: 'Ofqual would have known algorithm would hit poor students', Ex-Ofsted chief says

The Government was forced to change the system after almost 40 per cent of grades were downgraded from teachers’ predictions due to a standardisation algorithm.

On Monday, Mr Williamson apologised for "the distress" caused to students and their parents and said it became clear over the weekend that action was needed after Ofqual released additional data about its algorithm.

On Tuesday, he told LBC’s Nick Ferrari that his conversations with the PM over the issue had been "very good."

Ofqual "didn't deliver" on the exams system, Education Secretary claims

Mr Williamson added: “Obviously it’s not a conversation that you would ever want to do, it’s not a conversation that you ever want to have to say to the Prime Minister that we’d have to make these significant changes.

“But my belief is, if something is wrong, if something isn’t working, the key thing to do is fix it.

“That’s what I did, and that’s what I’d always do.”

Read more: Students say they can 'breathe again' after government U-turn on A-level results

Asked if Mr Johnson had “lost his temper” during the conversation, the Education Secretary responded: “The Prime Minister is a very even-tempered person and certainly didn’t lose his temper with me.

“He recognised this was the right thing to do, he agreed with me that it was the right thing to do, that’s why we did it.”

Mr Williamson also said he didn’t lose his temper with anyone at Ofqual, adding: “No, not at all. What I want Ofqual to do is deliver the right grades for every child.”

Nick Ferrari asks Gavin Williamson if he's offered to resign

His comments came after 24 hours of mounting pressure from Tory backbenchers, who claimed he had lost the confidence of the teaching profession and should resign.

The Education Secretary also said Ofqual "didn't deliver" on the promised system that the Government believed would be in place for assessing A-level and GCSE results.

He said it was important for him to "ensure fairness" and that young people would get the grades that they deserve.

When asked by Nick if the Government had failed the Minister said exam regulator Ofqual "didn't deliver the system they we had been reassured and believed would be in place."

He told LBC that the Government was working with universities to ensure they have a "record year" by looking at ways they can expand.

Mr Williamson highlighted that there had been a "steep decline" in the number of students coming from EU nations, partly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nick Ferrari asks Gavin Williamson four times if he has confidence in Ofqual boss

He said this year's number of students eligible to go to university was "two per cent down on what it was last year".

When the LBC presenter asked Mr Williamson if he had offered to resign the Government Minister did not answer the question, instead saying he was working on making sure "students get the grades that they deserve," as well as working to ensure all pupils are able to return back to schools in September.

He said his third priority was making sure an education revolution continues, with an increase in standards.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer branded the Tory handling of the situation as "incompetent."

Writing in the Daily Mirror the Labour leader said the U-turn "sums up their handling of this pandemic - incompetent".

Ofqual Chairman Roger Taylor said in a statement: "We understand this has been a distressing time for students, who were awarded exam results last week for exams they never took.

Students celebrate U-turn on A-level grade system

"The pandemic has created circumstances no one could have ever imagined or wished for. We want to now take steps to remove as much stress and uncertainty for young people as possible - and to free up heads and teachers to work towards the important task of getting all schools open in two weeks.

"After reflection, we have decided that the best way to do this is to award grades on the basis of what teachers submitted.

"The switch to centre assessment grades will apply to both AS and A-levels and to the GCSE results which students will receive later this week."