The Department for Education’s most senior civil servant has been ousted following the exams fiasco as Boris Johnson called for “fresh official leadership”.
Johnson has been accused of ‘avoiding responsibility’ after the Department of Education’s top civil servant ‘agreed to stand down’ following the government’s exams fiasco.
Jonathan Slater, who became the department’s Permanent Secretary in May 2016, is set to stand down on 1 September, the Government has announced. In a statement, the DfE said the Prime minister had ‘concluded that there is a need for fresh official leadership’ after thousands of students’ had their A-level and GCSEs results downgraded due to an algorithm. Mr Slater will be replaced by Susan Acland-Hood, who was brought in as his deputy last week.
Jonathan Slater will be replaced on an interim basis by his second-in-command, Susan Acland-Hood, a former chief executive of HM Courts and Tribunals Service who was brought into the Department for Education as Second Permanent Secretary last week to help handle the crisis.
Mr Slater’s successor is set to be appointed “in the coming weeks”, the Department said.
Scapegoating for Williamson
Testerday Ofqual chief Sally Collier quit in the wake of the A-level results fiasco which saw ministers forced into a U-turn on grades.
The exam watchdog said its under-fire chief regulator had “decided that the next stage of the awarding process would be better overseen by new leadership” after shelving a controversial process which saw nearly 40% of students’ grades revised down in the wake of exams being cancelled by Covid-19 restrictions.
“The Ofqual Board has agreed temporary support arrangements with Ofsted to support the ongoing work on this summer’s GCSE, A level and vocational qualifications, including appeals and autumn exams, and preparations for next year’s exam season,” an Ofqual statement said on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the calls for Gavin Williamson to step down have intensified after Labour demanded on Tuesday that the Education Secretary be “held responsible for exam fiasco” following Ms Collier’s resignation.
Responding to the removal of Mr Slate, Labour’s Kate Green said: “Under this Government civil servants have time and time again taken the fall for the incompetence and failures of Ministers.
The Shadow Education Secretary added: “Parents will be looking on in dismay at a government in complete chaos just a matter of days before children will return to schools.
“Leadership requires a sense of responsibility and a willingness to be held accountable, qualities this Prime Minister and his ministers utterly lack.”
Elsewhere, Dave Penman, head of the FDA civil servant union, accused the Government of making Mr Slater a “scapegoat” for the crisis.
“It is absolutely clear this govt views civil servants as nothing but scapegoats, political pawns there only to shield ministers from accountability,” he told the BBC.
And Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “It’s just a scorched-earth policy for civil servants.
“The ministers who should be resigning because of their political decisions have just refused to take responsibility and are laying into these civil servants, the unfortunate fall guys and gals for ministerial incompetence.”
Boris Johnson blamed a “mutant algorithm” for this summer’s exam results fiasco.
“I am afraid your grades were almost derailed by a mutant algorithm and I know how stressful that must have been,” Mr Johnson told pupils at a school in Leicestershire.
Replacement grades caused chaos and required changes to some results.
In the fall-out from the exam problems, the Department for Education’s permanent secretary has stepped down.
The National Education Union called Mr Johnson’s comments “brazen” and accused the prime minister of trying to “idly shrug away a disaster that his own government created”.
Mr Johnson had been empathising with the problems of young people during the pandemic – including the “mutant algorithm” for exam grades.
“I’m very, very glad that it has finally been sorted out,” he told pupils.
The prime minister said education was the “great liberator” and the biggest risk for young people was not Covid-19 – it was “continuing to be out of school”.
A statement on the departure of the Department for Education’s permanent secretary, Jonathan Slater, said “the prime minister has concluded that there is a need for fresh official leadership” at the department.
The role as the department’s most senior civil servant will be taken on in an interim basis by Susan Acland-Hood.
This follows the stepping down of Sally Collier as head of the Ofqual exam watchdog for England.
Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union, said: “It is abundantly clear that things have not gone well at the Department for Education and Ofqual, culminating in the debacle over this year’s GCSE and A-level grades.
“But it is pretty unsavoury that civil servants appear to be carrying the can while ministers remain unscathed.”
Related article: People Power: A-levels and GCSEs U-turn as teacher estimates to be used for exam results
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