Minister ‘failed’ students (Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty Images).
Radhakrishna N S
By Amit Roy
BORIS JOHNSON will wonder if Gavin Williamson is the right man to be education secretary after the A-levels fiasco, which is so serious it has become an election loser for the Conservative party.
I remember Williamson being invited to the Hinduja Diwali party when he was chief whip. The Hindujas must have thought they had backed the right person when Williamson was catapulted to defence secretary by Theresa May. That’s an A grade if he was being marked in an exam.
Sadly, he slipped to a D when May accused him of leaking confidential National Security Council information related to Huawei’s potential involvement in the UK’s 5G network. Boris took him back and made him education secretary – that was like getting a B in a mock exam.
Unfortunately for Williamson, students have run his performance through a computer algorithm, which has dropped his marks to the bottom grade – U.
Whether he keeps his job in the next cabinet reshuffle remains to be seen. But this is not just a question of Williamson’s career but whether the government will be punished at the next general election for ruining the lives of thousands of 18-year-olds who will have the vote next time round. So will 16-year-olds whose GCSE “results” were due to be published on Thursday (20).
It is not difficult to share the outrage of nearly 40 per cent of students who have been downgraded, in many cases by several grades.
After arriving from India as a boy, I did both my O (precursor to the GCSEs) and A levels. I would have been distraught had I been prevented from going to university on the basis of computer modelling – which is happening across the country now.
The only way to resolve the crisis in a year when there have been no exams, is to accept the grades predicted by teachers or the mock results – whichever is better. The computer algorithm, intended to prevent grade inflation, clearly got it wrong in many cases.
The case of a single mother, “Olive”, who spoke to presenter Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London seems to be typical.
She broke down as she revealed she “nearly had a heart attack” when her son, who had been predicted to get two A*s and an A was instead awarded ABC. His offer to study economics at a top university was withdrawn.
“My son is absolutely shattered,” she said. “The government has failed itself and it has failed a whole generation. I say to them, ‘Shame on you.’”
The Labour party has tried to play politics by claiming the results favoured pupils from private schools over those from the state sector in deprived areas.
So far three Oxford colleges – Worcester, Wadham and St Edmund Hall – have shown the way by confirming places to all pupils who had received conditional offers, irrespective of the grades they were given.
Williamson had initially insisted there would be “no U-turn” on the grading system. But he will have no option but to climb down, otherwise the government will be confronted by a tsunami of legal challenges, nationwide demonstrations and political chaos that will get worse with each passing day.
What I remember from my school days is that people tend to do better in the actual exams than in the mocks which are invariably marked harshly. In many ways, A-levels are the most important exams for young people because it affects their future in a fundamental way.
Breaking news: The government has climbed down and announced that grades given by teachers will be accepted. Grade inflation is a small price to pay to prevent the lives of a whole generation being destroyed. Boris should sack Williamson – and replace him with Sajid Javid.