Boris Johnson is defying calls for an autumn reshuffle despite Tory backbench pressure to sack Gavin Williamson over his exams debacle.
The PM has been accused of having a ‘lack of grip’ after a series of mishaps during the coronavirus crisis has left the Government being ‘laughed at’.
He is expected to make ‘minor’ changes to his Cabinet after the summer recess before a full January ‘reset’ when the Brexit transition period has ended.
Mr Johnson is refusing to sack his Education Secretary, who is desperately trying to cling onto his job after his humiliating A-levels climbdown.
The Government has also faced criticism for its handling of the pandemic, including its botched NHS Test and Trace app and its excessive lockdown curbs.
Mr Williamson’s humiliating U-turn and effort to blame Ofqual for the exams fiasco is seen by a growing number of Tory MPs as one blunder too far.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, one Tory said the Government is ‘being seen as hapless’: ‘We have had too many mishaps for a Government that is only a year old’.
Boris Johnson is defying calls for an autumn reshuffle despite Tory backbench pressure to sack Gavin Williamson over his exams debacle. The PM has been accused of a ‘lack of grip’ after a series of mishaps during the coronavirus crisis have left the Government being ‘laughed at’
Youth protests in front of the Department for Education on August 16. Nearly 280,000 students saw their A-Level grades downgraded by a government algorithm
Another Tory backbencher said: ‘I’ve no doubt Boris is in touch with what is going on, but it really just feels as though there is a lack of grip.’
Ofqual is accused of ‘threatening to undermine public trust in statistics’ as probe into A-levels grading fiasco is launched
Ofqual was accused of ‘threatening to undermine public trust in statistics’ last night as the first official probe into the grading fiasco was launched.
The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) launched an inquiry yesterday into the beleaguered exam body’s algorithm – the first in a series of humiliating investigations.
It came as the Information Commissioner’s Office hinted it may also probe whether the algorithm met data protection laws.
In a statement, the ICO told the Mail: ‘We understand how important A-levels results and other qualifications are to students across the country. When so much is at stake, it’s especially important that their personal data is used fairly and transparently.’
GDPR law says everyone has ‘the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling, which produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her’.
Ed Humpherson, of the OSR, said in a letter it would ‘conduct a review of the statistical models put in place’, to be published in September.
Hinting that other probes were likely, he said it would ‘seek to minimise overlap between our review and others’.
Former schools minister David Laws, executive chairman of the Education Policy Institute, said: ‘We urgently need a fully independent review of what happened this year so that errors made are clearly understood and so that the right lessons are learned for the future.’
Ofqual declined to comment.
A third warned of ‘huge pressure building up at the bottom of the volcano’ and said the elections next May ‘could be an enormous wake up call’ to the Tories.
‘Brexit and a Corbyn-led Labour party, which won us the election in 2019, will be rotting corpses by then,’ they told the newspaper.
‘It’s not about what the Government does but whether it is competent. With fiascos like the grading scandal, we are giving our supporters good reason not to come out and support us. That’s a potential for a political tsunami to take place.’
Tories have made private submissions to party whips making it clear Mr Williamson should be sacked. Huw Merriman, who represents Bexhill and Battle, said: ‘It’s not something that should be passed on to Ofqual – the buck stops with government.’
In a round of interviews yesterday Mr Williamson said he was ‘incredibly sorry’ for the distress caused to students – but refused to say whether he would resign, or whether he had offered to. He told LBC Radio: ‘It is quite clear that there have been some real challenges in terms of what Ofqual have been able to deliver.
‘We ended up in a situation where Ofqual didn’t deliver the system that we had been reassured and believed would be in place.’
Asked if he had confidence in Miss Collier he merely said: ‘Our focus and what I expect from Ofqual is to ensure that they deliver the grades that youngsters need.’
His allies said he had not been given access to the algorithm until the night before the grades were published. But Mr Merriman said: ‘If there’s any fault in this – and there has been – then the fault has to reside with the Government. The Government are responsible. I believe that it’s the Government that runs the country.’
Another Conservative MP described Mr Williamson as a ‘walking corpse’, adding: ‘Can you actually see back to school working OK? It’ll be a dog’s breakfast. He has to go and he has to go now.’
A third Tory MP said: ‘He hasn’t got a future – or at least he shouldn’t have one. He hasn’t got an ounce of integrity.
‘He should have offered to go, and now the PM won’t sack him because it’ll be a sign of weakness, as with Dominic Cummings. Gavin has no credibility whatsoever and he now has to sort out the mess with uni places, as well as get children back to school in September. And his track record on doing that has been p*** poor.
‘He’s got a brass neck blaming Ofqual – they’ve obviously been pretty incompetent, but ultimately the DfE is responsible. Why didn’t he see it coming?
Another Tory backbencher said: ‘I’ve no doubt Boris is in touch with what is going on, but it really just feels as though there is a lack of grip’
‘When they scrapped exams, they needed to war game every scenario. Then after the dry run in Scotland, why then did they go and repeat the cock-up?
‘I have spoken to the whips’ office, along with most of my colleagues – we’ve made our thoughts really, really clear. There is a huge amount of pressure from MPs.’
Top civil servant at Department for Education ‘is facing axe’ over series of school disasters
By Claire Ellicot, Political Correspondent for the Daily Mail
The top civil servant at the Department for Education could be in line for the sack after ministers raised concerns about a series of fiascos.
Jonathan Slater has been permanent secretary at the department since 2016, serving under four education secretaries.
However, his future is reportedly in question – despite Government denials that he will be leaving his post.
Ministers are said to be concerned about the recent failure to reopen schools before the summer, and exam grading.
Should he leave, Mr Slater would be the fourth permanent secretary to vacate their post within seven months.
Sir Philip Rutnam left the Home Office in January after sensationally accusing Home Secretary Priti Patel of bullying. He also said he would take the Government to an employment tribunal.
Sir Simon McDonald said in June that he was going to leave the Foreign Office in the autumn, and Sir Richard Heaton said earlier this summer he was standing down at the Ministry of Justice.
Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill was ousted earlier this year – and is being given a £250,000 payout. He is due to step down in September, and his replacement has not yet been announced.
Helen McNamara, who was head of propriety and ethics at the Cabinet Office before her promotion to de facto deputy cabinet secretary, is reportedly set to be transferred to a job as permanent secretary for a large Whitehall department.
A former Cabinet minister said: ‘The problem is that while officials may have been getting it completely wrong, all the way through Gavin Williamson has simply been accepting their reassurances.’
Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons education committee, called the situation a ‘mega-mess’ that could have been avoided had ministers listened to a report he published last month.
The Tory MP added: ‘We pointed out some of the flaws in the system – that it might hurt the disadvantaged and so on – and we urged the publication of the model, but none of this happened.
‘Instead, it was put on a dusty shelf in the Department for Education and at Ofqual and that just shouldn’t have happened.’
Johnny Mercer and Penny Mordaunt also voiced their concerns over the ‘injustice’ of the grading system, which downgraded 40 per cent of all A-level results and disproportionately affected the grades of poorer children.
So far the Government has chosen to back Mr Williamson, with a source telling The Daily Telegraph: ‘There are no plans for a reshuffle in September. The Government has full confidence in the Education Secretary.’
The PM is expected to make ‘minor’ Cabinet tweaks with Anne-Marie Trevelyan tipped to replace Ben Wallace as Defence Secretary. Liz Truss’ future as International Trade Secretary is uncertain.
According to one Cabinet minister: ‘I don’t think we’ll see a reshuffle of any great significance until the New Year, after Brexit has been fully delivered.
‘I don’t think the PM is minded to do a big next stage of Government reset while the country is still in the midst of the coronavirus crisis and a trade deal is still being negotiated with Brussels.’
Another Cabinet minister added: ‘Someone is going to have to go to make way for Anne-Marie, but the PM is facing two competing pressures.
‘One, he is very loyal to the people who have supported him and doesn’t like firing people, and two, he cannot change much until Brexit is done and the Government’s attention switches from crisis management to economic recovery.’
Trying to cling on to his job, the Education Secretary and his allies claimed responsibility for his humiliating A-levels climbdown lay with the regulator Ofqual.
Mr Williamson suggested the watchdog ‘didn’t deliver’ and said he had warned that its algorithm must not penalise disadvantaged children. He also declined repeated requests to express confidence in Ofqual chief Sally Collier.
The Education Secretary’s allies even claimed his officials had held crisis talks with the regulator last month about the flawed computer model that later caused chaos by downgrading the results of 57,000 students. But the arguments cut no ice with Mr Williamson’s critics who pointed out that MPs published a damning report at the start of July warning that Ofqual’s system might hurt poorer pupils.
Their report demanded that the algorithm be opened up to scrutiny, yet the Education Secretary failed to ensure this or to order advance testing.