Williamson made ‘fundamental mistake’ on algorithms, says Ofqual chair

Written by Eleanor Langford on 3 September 2020 in News
News

Roger Taylor tells select committee that government repeatedly overlooked regulator’s guidance

Credit: Victoria Jones/PA Archive/PA Images

Ofqual chair Roger Taylor has claimed it was a "fundamental mistake" to believe that it “would ever be acceptable” to use an algorithm to award grades for this year’s A-level 

Appearing before the House of Commons Education Committee on yesterday, Taylor defended his organisation’s response to the exams crisis, while delivering a damning assessment of the role of education secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured above) in this summer's exams fiasco. 

Taylor claimed Ofqual had favoured summer assessments going ahead in a socially-distanced manner. The organisation also recommended that exams were delayed or, if needed, simply cancelled altogether.

But he said that Williamson took the decision to cancel exams and implement a system of calculated grades “without further consultation”.

“The fundamental mistake was to believe this would ever be acceptable to the public”, Taylor added.


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His appearance came after Sally Collier, the chief regulator of Ofqual, and John Slater, the permanent secretary at the Department for Education (DfE), both stepped down from their roles following the exams fiasco.

The controversial algorithm—which took into account the past performance of a student’s school, as well as teacher predictions—was scrapped shortly after the publication of A-level results following widespread backlash, with the government deciding that mock results could be accepted instead.

But Taylor said Ofqual guidance on what counted as a valid mock examination was removed at the request of the education secretary shortly after it was published as it was not “in line with government policy”.

He said he saw the situation as “rapidly getting out of control” in the days after exam results were published, and feared that policies recommended by the government “would not be consistent with [Ofqual’s] legal duties”.

Asked by Robert Halfon, the committee chair, whether he threatened to resign if Williamson did not express confidence in Ofqual, Taylor said he had told him that he would have to consider his position if confidence was not expressed. At the time of the fiasco, it had taken several days before a statement was issued by the DfE expressing Williamson's support of the watchdog.

Taylor told the committee that "online tests" could be used if exams were disrupted in 2021.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “As we’ve consistently said, the government never wanted to cancel exams because they are the best and fairest form of assessment. We listened to views from a range of parties, including Ofqual, and given the public health requirements at the time, made what was a very difficult decision on the basis that it was a necessary step to fight the spread of coronavirus. We welcome the work of the Education Select Committee and look forward to engaging with it while working closely with Ofqual to ensure fairness for students both this year and in years to come.”

 

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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