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Williamson’s A-level fiasco emails revealed

Williamson's A-level fiasco emails revealed
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Earlier this month the columnist Sarah Vine revealed in the Mail on Sunday that education secretary Gavin Williamson had been the recipient of a tearful phone call from a student over last year's A-level results day fiasco. Now two weeks later Mr S can go a step further in revealing the barrage of critical correspondence Williamson received in the immediate aftermath of the crisis. 

Parents, teachers, MPs and pupils bombarded Williamson with emails, obtained via a Freedom of Information request, with one angry grandmother telling the education secretary she had ‘never witnessed such injustice in the education system’ after an algorithm was employed to determine students’ results following the cancellation of summer exams.

Others described the situation as a ‘disgrace’, ‘social engineering’ and a ‘shambles and a fiasco’ according to newly released emails which show the pressure that was brought to bear on the minister. Cabinet colleagues of Williamson such as home secretary Priti Patel and party chair Amanda Milling were forced to write and highlight cases of constituents whose children had been affected.

Backbench MP Pauline Latham wrote to her fellow Tory just hours after results were released, warning: ‘Time is of the essence for this to be resolved…. It has caused a lot of upset amongst parents, pupils and staff.’ A Rossendale constituent of Jake Berry said it amounted to ‘discriminatory practice’ while former Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan forwarded one example of a constituent’s ‘farcical’ results.

It concluded with the student’s father noting that ‘neither I nor my wife attended uni, so naturally we want our son to have the best opportunity that is possible.’ Less than 48 hours after A-level results day, Williamson was forced into a humiliating U-turn and backed teacher assessments, following the furious backlash.

A Freedom of Information request to the department of education asked for correspondence sent to Mr Williamson between noon and 11 pm on A-level results day and GCSE results day the following week. Thirty documents were recovered, which revealed the extent of the anger and distress felt over the way results had been handled following the cancellation of formal exams.

It is not known how many more emails were received by the education secretary outside of this narrow time frame, limited so as to not exceed Whitehall restrictions on the cost of document disclosures. Some of the angriest correspondence came from the self-described Tory faithful residing in the Home Counties.

One Buckinghamshire resident wrote: ‘It is with great regret as a Conservative voter that I wish to express my total lack of confidence in the ability of Mr Gavin Williamson… [he] appears to have been asleep at the wheel’.

Another, who described themselves as a party member, highlighted their daughter’s case, adding: ‘I am seriously questioning why I continue to belong to a Party that stumbles from crisis to crisis. So far I have given the PM the benefit of the doubt, based on the awful circumstances he is having to operate in. Yet this shambles is another ‘own goal.’'

Other complaints included the fact that ‘no one is answering the phone’ at exams regulator Ofqual despite one parent having tried ‘for several hours’ to get through. A Department for Education spokesperson told Mr S: ‘We have published a consultation which sets out that grades will be based on teacher assessments and not an algorithm this summer.’ 

Williamson will surely be hoping his postbag this summer is a little less full than last year's.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk.

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