Education secretary has ruled out answering questions on whether he would resign – or whether he had offered his resignation to Boris Johnson – over the handling of the A-level and GCSE exams.
The cabinet minister apologised for the ‘distress’ caused by the abandoned policy which was intended to give fair results to pupils who could not sit exams because of the coronavirus crisis.
But he has dismissed questions over his own future, telling BBC Breakfast: ‘At every stage where there have been concerns about the system there was total consensus that a moderated system of teacher assessment was the right system to go round by all parties.
Have your say
Send your letters for publication to The New European by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org by Tuesday at 9am and pick up an edition each Thursday for more comment and analysis. Find your nearest stockist here, read the newspaper on our app, or subscribe to a print or digital edition for just £13. You can also join our readers' Facebook group to keep the discussion and debate going with thousands of fellow pro-Europeans.
‘This is something that was done in Scotland by the SNP. It was something that was done by Labour and the Lib Dems in Wales. It was something done by the DUP and Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland and, of course, what we did here in England as well.’
When asked again whether he would resign, Williamson said: ‘What we’re doing is we’re focusing on delivering the grades for those children.
‘We’re making sure that we’re going to make sure that all schools are returned and I’m absolutely determined over the coming year that I’m going to be delivering the world’s best education system.’
He acknowledged that universities face challenges after the government announced that A-level students can use teachers’ assessed grades rather than moderated grades awarded last week.
He explained: ‘We’ve set up a task force with the university sector – how can we boost their capacity, not just boosting their capacity for this year, but also looking at how we can boost their capacity for next year.
‘We recognise some of the real challenges that universities face. We know that there’s a clear expectation that is on universities for them to welcome in so many youngsters who have achieved those grades. We’re working with those universities to ensure that they’re able to welcome as many youngsters to them as possible.’
Williamson added: ‘We’re going to have a record year of the number of people who are going to university and we’ll work with the sector to ensure they have as much capacity.’
Prime minister Boris Johnson and Williamson had previously defended the ‘robust’ system, while the education secretary had insisted there would be ‘no U-turn, no change’ and said a shift could lead to ‘rampant grade inflation’.
Johnson, who is on holiday in Scotland, held crisis talks with Williamson and senior officials on Monday morning to discuss the policy shift.
Shadow universities minister Emma Hardy said that Williamson’s delay in allowing pupils to be given grades estimated by teachers has caused a ‘massive headache’.
She told BBC Breakfast: ‘His delay in making this decision has meant that more and more places at university have been filled up.
‘Many students have gone ahead and accepted their second-place offers or other offers, or in fact got offers that maybe in the past they wouldn’t have actually been entitled to.
‘This has created a massive headache for our entire universities system. It’s so frustrating because it’s something that could have been avoided.’
Asked whether she believes Williamson should resign, she said: ‘Well, I know if I was in charge of the government he certainly wouldn’t be in my team, but that’s a matter for Boris Johnson.
‘What Gavin Williamson needs to be focusing on right now is how we ensure students have the best possible experience when they go to university in September and maybe not be focusing so much on saving his own job.’