'Gavin get gone': Angry students demand education secretary's resignation

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand

Angry students have said an apology from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson over the A-levels results fiasco is "not good enough" and are demanding he resigns from government.

Mr Williamson told ITV News he is "sorry" to students after days of inaction over A-level results caused panic and confusion for thousands of them.

But despite a U-turn and an apology, dozens of students attended a protest in Leeds holding placards, many of which read “five days too late” and “Gavin get gone”.

James Fishwick, the 19-year-old history student who organised the protest, branded the education secretary a "failure" and urged him to step down.

Mr Williamson earlier suggested he did not plan to resign over the issue which Labour said has caused "chaos" for universities which will be "incredibly difficult" for the sector to fix.

Political Correspondent Paul Brand says following the A-levels U-turn, GCSE grades will be ready to be released on Thursday and they too will be based on teachers' predictions or the moderated grade, whichever is higher

The government was forced into yet another U-turn after outrage at a marking algorithm which downgraded 40% of predicted A-Level grades by exams regulator Ofqual.

Those from more disadvantaged backgrounds were said to have been hit harder by the moderation system than those from more affluent areas.

For days the government stood by the grades, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling them "robust", but eventually bowed to pressure on Monday, ahead of the release of GCSE results on Thursday.

Dozens of angry students attended a protest in Leeds demanding Gavin Williamson's resignation. Credit: PA

Olivia Hullah, who studied at Heckmondwike Grammar School, told the crowd that she had been rejected by both of her university choices due to her grades being downgraded.

The 18-year-old said: “Because of the Tory government decision to use a computer algorithm, I have to put my life on hold for a year.

"This is a real experience and real people are dealing with these problems.”

Ms Hullah added: “I think Gavin Williamson can apologise but there’s been no action. He should apologise and resign. He’s made a big mistake.

"The reason I’m not going to university this year is because of him.”

  • Gavin Williamson refuses to say if he'll resign over exam results handling

Before the U-turn was made, the Clearing process was allowed to begin, meaning thousands of students who did not achieve the grades for their preferred universities were accepted onto courses they did not originally apply for.

In other cases, students who did not get the grades for their preferred university were accepted onto their second or third choice university.

The change in policy has given students improved grades, meaning many now qualify to attend the university they were originally offered a place at.

It means many universities are left with the prospect of having to accept many more students onto their courses than they would usually be able to cope with.

Labour shadow university minister Emma Hardy said "the fact that [Gavin Williamson] took such a long time to make the decision" to change policy has caused "an awful lot of chaos and uncertainty".

  • Labour's Emma Hardy labels government "incompetent"

"We have this problem where some universities will make more offers to students than they have places available - that's standard that it happens every year.

"They're now being told that every student who has had that offer has to be able to attend the university of their choice - I just don't see how that's practically possible," she said.

With coronavirus still a concern, she said "the very idea that these universities can have an extra 1,500 students potentially walking around safely is in question".

She said the chaos was also "impacting" second choice universities which are now seeing the numbers of students on their courses decreasing which will affect their "financial stability".

"Their financial future is at risk because of the chaos and incompetence cause by this government," she added.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, called for “urgent clarification” from the government on a number of “crucial issues”.

He said the change “at this late stage” will “cause challenges” for capacity and staffing as he called on ministers to “step up and support universities”.

Despite a similar scenario playing out in Scotland weeks ago, the education secretary claimed he only saw the consequences of the downgraded results at the weekend.

Mr Williamson claimed he was not aware of the “real concerns” about results because he was given assurances by exams regulator Ofqual.

Speaking to ITV News, he said: "First of all I would like to emphasise how sorry I am and we all are for the fact students didn’t truly get the grades they truly had worked for and that they deserved.

  • Gavin Williamson apologises for A-Level and GCSE results U-turn

"We have always worked incredibly closely with Ofqual, highlighting the issues and concerns that we would have and the standardisation of grades made sure we avoided those problems.

“But when we saw what happened in Scotland, we were given the assurance that the quality and the standardisation process that we were using for A-Levels and GCSEs were a higher quality.

“And that same decision that was made here for students in England, but also the same decision that was made by a Labour and Liberal Democrat administration in Wales and a DUP and Sinn Fein administration in Northern Ireland.”

Ms Hardy said it was "completely unfair" to "throw Ofqual under the bus to hide their own incompetence".

She said the government should have scrutinised the assurances it was given by Ofqual.

"The very idea that they just took reassurances and shrugged and said 'OK that's fine' and waited for the catastrophe to happen is frankly appalling."

She said if she was "in charge", Mr Williamson "certainly wouldn't be one of my top people for running education and supporting our students throughout the whole of the country".

"There is an awfully huge mess now in our university sector, that needs to be dealt with urgently," she said.

"I sincerely hope the secretary of state does not focus his time and attention in the next 48 hours on saving his own job, and instead focuses his time and attention on supporting universities and supporting children," she added.

When speaking to ITV News, Mr Williamson refused to answer whether he would resign.

“My focus is making sure that all youngsters get the grades that they deserve, make sure that all schools are returning in September, but then to make sure that we deliver on our promises to the British people that we were given a mandate for back in December," Mr Williamson said.

“And that’s to ensure that we continue to drive up the quality in standards and education, ensure that we do everything we can do to make sure that children from whatever background gets the very best quality of education.

“And that is what we are going to be delivering, and that’s what this Conservative government’s going to deliver.”