Johnson blames ‘mutant algorithm’ for exams debacle

Written by Eleanor Langford and Sam Trendall on 27 August 2020 in News

Prime minister acknowledges process was ‘stressful’ for pupils

Credit: Tim Ireland/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Boris Johnson has suggested the confusion over A-level and GCSE grade estimates in recent weeks was due to a “mutant algorithm”.

Speaking to year 11 pupils at Castle Rock High School in Leicestershire, he acknowledged that the process would have been a cause of stress. 

“You couldn’t sit your exams which you yearned to do and, I’m afraid, your grades were almost derailed by a mutant algorithm, and I know how stressful that must have been for pupils up and down the country," he said. "And I’m very, very glad it’s finally been sorted out. “

National Education Union boss Kevin Courtney branded the PM's comments as "brazen", claiming he was trying to "idly shrug away a disaster that his own government created".

He said: "Parents, students, teachers and heads will be horrified to see the leader of this country treat his own exams fiasco like some minor passing fad. The public will not easily forget the emotional rollercoaster of this year's results season. It is certain to put a long-lasting dent in the government's reputation on education."

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On Tuesday, education secretary Gavin Williamson faced renewed calls to quit over his role in the exams chaos, after Ofqual chief regulator Sally Collier chose to step down in the wake of criticism. 

The following day, Department for Education permanent secretary Jonathan Slater became the second civil servant to pay for the A-level fiasco with their job.

“The prime minister has concluded that there is a need for fresh official leadership at the Department for Education,” a government spokesperson said, after it was confirmed that  Slater will stand down on 1 September.

Following the Ofqual head’s resignation, Labour claimed that ministers have "washed their hands of blame" and accused the government of treating the regulator as a "fall guy".

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: "Boris Johnson is shamelessly trying to avoid taking responsibility for the exams fiasco that his government created. Responsibility for this shambles lies squarely with Downing Street and the Department for Education, who set out how they wanted the algorithm to work and were warned weeks in advance of issues, but repeatedly refused to address the problems they had created.  It is this Tory government's incompetence that is to blame for the exams fiasco.”


About the author

Eleanor Langford is a reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared. She tweets as @eleanormia.

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