Second top Whitehall civil servant steps down in 24 hours after A-Levels and GCSE debacle

PUBLISHED: 16:19 26 August 2020 | UPDATED: 16:19 26 August 2020

Demonstrators outside the Department for Education; Victoria Jones

Demonstrators outside the Department for Education; Victoria Jones

PA Wire/PA Images

The top civil servant at the Department for Education Jonathan Slater will leave his post at the start of September after the exams fiasco.

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Slater is the second senior civil servant to quit in less than 24 hours and follows the resignation of other top Whitehall officials including cabinet secretary, Mark Sedwill, and the Foreign Office permanent secretary, Simon McDonald over the last few months.

The former head of Ofqual, Sally Collier, announced her resignation on Tuesday while calls for the education minister, Gavin Williamson, to resign have also been growing.

Department of Education civil servant Jonathan Slater during a webinar; YoutubeDepartment of Education civil servant Jonathan Slater during a webinar; Youtube

A statement posted on the gov.uk website said: “The prime minister has concluded that there is a need for fresh official leadership at the Department for Education.

“Jonathan Slater has therefore agreed that he will stand down on September 1, in advance of the end of his tenure in spring 2021.

“Susan Acland-Hood, currently interim second permanent secretary, will take over as acting permanent secretary. A permanent successor to replace Jonathan Slater will be appointed in the coming weeks.

“The cabinet secretary would like to put on record his thanks to Jonathan for 35 years of public service, culminating in over four years as permanent secretary of the Department for Education.”

Labour frontbencher Bill Esterson said “the buck stops” with the education secretary.

“First the head of the regulator Ofqual resigns over the exam fiasco, now the permanent secretary at the Department for Education,” he said.

“Why is the secretary of state still in post? Two scapegoats can’t save him.

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“The buck stops with Williamson. Sooner or later, he has to go too.”

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “It’s just a scorched-earth policy for civil servants. The ministers who should be resigning because of their political decisions have just refused to take responsibility and are laying into these civil servants, the unfortunate fall guys and galls for ministerial incompetence.”

This comes as the Boris Johnson suggested that the exams debacle, which saw almost 40% of A-Level results downgraded, had been caused by a “mutant algorithm”.

Labour accused Johnson of trying to avoid taking responsibility for a “shambles” caused by his government’s “incompetence”.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “Boris Johnson is shamelessly trying to avoid taking responsibility for the exams fiasco that his government created.

“Responsibility for this shambles lies squarely with Downing Street and the Department for Education, who set out how they wanted the algorithm to work and were warned weeks in advance of issues, but repeatedly refused to address the problems they had created.

“It is this Tory government’s incompetence that is to blame for the exams fiasco.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “It is brazen of the prime minister to idly shrug away a disaster that his own government created.

“Parents, students, teachers and heads will be horrified to see the leader of this country treat his own exams fiasco like some minor passing fad.

“The public will not easily forget the emotional rollercoaster of this year’s results season. It is certain to put a long-lasting dent in the government’s reputation on education.”

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