Hancock defends cabinet colleague as DfE throws its backing behind Ofqual

Published by Scott Challinor on August 19th 2020, 2:00pm

Health secretary Matt Hancock has defended his cabinet colleague Gavin Williamson, with the education secretary under pressure to quit following widespread criticism of the way A-Level and GCSE exam results were handled this year.

Hancock urged the government not to be “distracted” from the priority of reopening schools in September by dispensing with Williamson, saying: “I don't think we should be distracted from that task now.”

However, the Telegraph reports that Williamson’s job could be at risk later in the autumn, with prime minister Boris Johnson tipped to be lining up a cabinet reshuffle.

Hancock stopped short of responding to such speculation but insisted that all ministers were doing their “level best to try to make right judgement in difficult circumstances.”

In the wake of the exam results u-turn, the Department of Education has said that it continues to back the exam regulator Ofqual, although Williamson has refused to endorse its chief executive Sally Collier.

The watchdog was responsible for the controversial standardisation algorithm which initially saw 280,000 A-Level results in England downgraded from teachers’ predicted grades, equating to almost 40 per cent of total entries.

The PM had initially backed the algorithm prior to the government's decision to u-turn and use teachers' predicted grades, saying that the standardisation system had produced a “robust” and “dependable” set of results.

The DfE said in its statement: "As the government has made clear, we have full confidence in Ofqual and its leadership in their role as independent regulator and we continue to work closely with Ofqual to deliver fair results for our young people at this unprecedented time.

"The decision they took to move from moderated grades to centre assessed grades was one that we agreed with.

"Our focus remains on working with Ofqual to ensure students receive their final GCSE, AS level and A-level results this week so that they can move on to the next stage of their lives."

Hancock dismissed the idea that cabinet ministers were looking to offload blame onto officials, following the Ofqual criticism and Hancock’s own decision to axe Public Health England earlier this week.

He said: "I take full responsibility for the whole pandemic response in health and social care, in the areas for which I am responsible...I take full responsibility for it and I don't criticise the people who work for me because they are doing their absolute best."

Elsewhere, former chancellor Sajid Javid, Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, has accepted an advisory role with US bank JP Morgan.

Javid stepped down as chancellor in February during the last cabinet reshuffle after refusing to sack his advisers as a condition for remaining in post.

His working hours and salary remain undisclosed, but JP Morgan said that his work would not clash with his duties as an MP.

Javid previously worked for JP Morgan in New York during the 1990s, going on to work for Deutsche Bank.

His new senior adviser role on the bank’s advisory council for Europe, the Middle East and Africa will see Javid provide advice to the bank’s executives in those regions, but he is forbidden from sharing sensitive information he was privy to during his stint as chancellor.

The UK Advisory Committee on Business Appointments [ACOBA] which oversees roles offered to former ministers and top civil servants, has approved Javid’s new role.

Ministers require ACOBA's approval to take up a new job within two years of leaving any ministry, in order to avoid sensitive knowledge being used for a competitive advantage and roles being offered to ex-ministers in exchange for favours.

Meanwhile, peers are less likely to be on the move to York after proposals to temporarily relocate the House of Lords while the Palace of Westminster undergoes building works were not considered for inclusion in a key review.

Prime minister Boris Johnson favours the idea of relocating the Lords during the building works to bolster his government’s levelling up agenda and redistributing opportunity and decision-making, but the body in charge of the project indicated that the move will no longer be considered.

The government has said that MPs will now decide on Parliament’s relocation, with the BBC reporting that it will continue to push for a temporary move away from central London.

Both MPs and peers agreed in 2018 to plans that would see both sides of Parliament move to temporary facilities to allow for essential repairs and upgrades within the Palace of Westminster. The idea of using York as a temporary home for the Lords emerged in January.

However, the Restoration and Renewal Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority, which is sponsoring the restoration project, has said a move to York will not come under its review of the 2018 plans.

The body warned that moving MPs and peers away from the capital came with “constitutional complications”, meaning both Houses were required to determine the matter rather than have the body review it.

The letter added: “This option [the York move] will not, therefore, be considered as part of the scope of the strategic review.

"In line with best practice, we remain committed to developing a business case that will set out in detail the options for restoring Parliament including cost estimates and timescales."

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Authored By

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
August 19th 2020, 2:00pm

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