Gavin Williamson cancelled a vital meeting to go on holiday in the week before the A-level exams fiasco, intensifying calls for the embattled education secretary’s resignation.
A report in the Sunday Times said that Williamson was away in the week beginning 3 August in the Yorkshire seaside town of Scarborough, where he has family, while the exam chaos was beginning to develop in Scotland.
He later suggested that he was unaware of flaws in the algorithm that led to tens of thousands of teenagers having their exams results downgraded, and missing out on prized university places on 13 August.
‘Missing in action’
A ‘senior Whitehall source’ told the Sunday Times that it was “surprising” that Williamson went “missing in action”, despite repeated warnings about the potential issues with the moderating system.
The paper quotes a senior Conservative backbencher as saying: “It’s OK to go on holiday as long as you have done your homework first. Colleagues understand if you get run over by a bus that comes around the corner and surprises you. Williamson was run over by a bus that everyone could see coming miles away.”
Williamson grew up in Scarborough, and his mother still lives there. Writing on Twitter this morning, he said: “I cancelled our family holiday abroad this year to focus on the challenges COVID-19 created for the education sector.
“Over the summer, I went to see family in Scarborough for the first time since lockdown, and while there I was in constant communication with the Department.”
But Labour slammed the education secretary’s “repeated incompetence”, and accused him of failing thousands of students across the UK.
Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, told the Sunday Times: “Despite receiving warnings weeks ago about problems in the grading system, Gavin Williamson took time off for his holidays only days before results were due, rather than being at his desk doing all he could to support young people.
“His repeated incompetence means that he has failed hundreds of thousands of families across the country and will have undermined parents’ confidence in the government as families and teachers prepare for school reopening next month.’’
Related: BTEC U-turn ‘unacceptable’ as Tory MP denies algorithm did disadvantage poorer pupils