Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been called to resign over the A levels U-turn - but will he?

Tuesday, 18th August 2020, 3:57 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th August 2020, 3:57 pm
Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary for England, has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons recently, following the disastrous way in which A level results were handled by the government this year (Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images)

Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary for England, has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons recently, following the disastrous way in which A level results were handled by the government this year.

But what has he said about the A level results crisis - and will he resign from government in the wake of the chaos? Here’s what you need to know.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

What happened with A level results?

Students in England received their A level results on Thursday 13 August, with 40 per cent seeing a downgrade in their predicted results by exams regulator Ofqual.

A controversial algorithm was used to calculate results, with students receiving grades based on prior grade averages for their schools, leaving many at a disadvantage.

However, the government announced a U-turn on its exam grading formula on Monday 17 August, with students now marked on teachers’ predicted grades.

Gavin Williamson has said he is "incredibly sorry for the distress" caused to pupils after making a U-turn on how A-levels are graded.

Who is Gavin Williamson?

Gavin Williamson, from Scarborough, North Yorkshire, originally began a career in manufacturing, successfully turning around a struggling pottery in Staffordshire.

He then became the managing director of an architectural design firm, which has been involved in the design of schools, public sector and commercial buildings.

Mr Williamson was elected as a County Councillor in 2001, before standing down in 2005, to contest the seat of Blackpool North and Fleetwood, in Lancashire.

Afterwards, he became Deputy Chairman of Staffordshire Area Conservatives, Chairman of Stoke on Trent Conservative Association and Vice Chairman of Derbyshire Dales Conservative Association.

In 2010, he ran for and was successful in winning the parliamentary seat of South Staffordshire.

Mr Williamson was elected Conservative MP for South Staffordshire in May 2010, a position which he still holds today.

On 14 July 2016 he became the Chief Whip (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury) and held this position until 2 November 2017.

From 2 November 2017 to 1 May 2019 Mr Williamson held the role of Secretary of State for Defence, but was sacked for allegedly disclosing plans to allow Chinese telecoms giant, Huawei, to help build the UK's 5G network.

He strenuously denied that he leaked information from the National Security Council.

Two months later, on 24 July 2019, Gavin Williamson CBE was appointed Secretary of State for Education.

In this role, he is responsible for the work of the Department for Education, including the school curriculum, higher education, teacher recruitment and retention and further education.

Will Gavin Williamson resign?

The education secretary is now facing calls to resign from his own party following the exam results U-turn.

Some MPs believe the prime minister will axe Mr Williamson when he reshuffles his Cabinet this autumn, but there are calls for him to resign from his role now.

Former Tory minister Nicholas Soames took to Twitter to say, “What could have been in the Prime Minister’s mind that led him to appoint so mere, so unreliable, so wholly unsuitable a man to one of the most important jobs in Government,” alongside a hashtag which read: “A catastrophic misjudgement Williamson must go”.

However, the education secretary has refused to say if he will resign from his role in the wake of the exam chaos.

"My focus is making sure youngsters get the grades that they deserve," Mr Williamson said.

He also refused four times to express “confidence” in Sally Collier, the Ofqual chief regulator in charge of the exam results algorithm.

He said Ofqual "didn't deliver the system that we had been reassured and believed would be in place."

How are universities coping with a surge in demand for places?

The government’s U-turn on A level results has left students scrambling for university places, with institutions dealing with a surge in demand for places from students who were rejected last week due to their original results.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said that many more students now have the grades they needed to get into their first-choice university.

He said this will "cause challenges at this late stage in the admissions process - capacity, staffing, placements and facilities - particularly with the social distance measures in place.”

He added: “Universities will do everything they can to work through these issues in the days ahead.

“The Government will need to step up and support universities through the challenges created by this late policy change.”

The government has since updated how GCSE results will be assessed, confirming that the results, which come out on Thursday 20 August, are to be based on teacher-assessed grades rather than grades calculated by an algorithm.