Former education secretary slams Gavin Williamson for ‘political decision’ not to fix A-Levels

Education secretary Gavin Williamson announced the U-turn on A-level and GCSE grades on August 17.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson announced the U-turn on A-level and GCSE grades on August 17. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA. - Credit: PA

A former education secretary has claimed Gavin Williamson's decision not to fix A-Levels had been 'very much a political decision'.

Alan Johnson, a former education minister in Tony Blair's cabinet, said the current office holder 'had a week' to change the way A-Levels were calculated but chose not to.

Appearing on LBC radio, Johnson that 'everybody could see' the spot the issue with A-Level grades but Williamson.

Former minister for Higher Education Alan Johnson on LBC radio; LBC, Twitter

Former minister for Higher Education Alan Johnson on LBC radio; LBC, Twitter - Credit: Archant


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'Everybody could see that a system based on the outcome of an exam needed adjustment because there were no exams', he said.

He went on to say the decision not scrap a controversial computer algorithm to predict grades in England after protests from students in Scotland 'was very much a political decision' and one that Williamson's advisors would have been aware of.

He said: 'Once they saw what happened to John Swinney in Scotland - the education minister up there who had to do a screeching U-turn - they had notice of this

'They had a week from there to their announcement, but I think this is very much down to ministers.'

The comments come after Williamson announced on Monday he was ditching the formula in favour of teacher assessments after almost 40% of marks had been downgraded by the system.

Johnson also questioned claims the minister made that student marks would be inflated if left down to teachers' original predictions, insisting new ways of assessing exams had stopped that from occurring.

'Grade inflation, this idea which Gavin Williamson was talking about - that it would disadvantage pupils in future years - I just don't understand that,' the former Blairite minister said.

Concerning the government's U-turn, he said: 'There's nothing wrong with governments U-turning... but they've become so consistent and on this issue it follows the view of people that education has been at the bottom of the list of priorities through this terrible Covid crisis.

'It comes after Marcus Rashford, after failing to get schools opened as schools on the continent managed to do in the rest of Europe, and I think in that sense it's far more damaging.'

Johnson ended by saying Williamson should have never become the education minister 'after what he did at defence' where he was accused of leaking sensitive information and was subsequently sacked by Theresa May.

He also accused the prime minister of awarding cabinet positions based on 'loyalty and not ability'.

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