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Broken promises: DfE snubs exams transparency request

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Gavin Williamson has snubbed demands from the education select committee to provide details of key meetings his department held with Ofqual in the run-up to the exams debacle, despite promising transparency.

The education secretary had been ordered by committee chair Robert Halfon to provide the information by Monday, after missing an earlier deadline.

It is completely unacceptable and adds insult to injury over this summer’s grading fiasco

But Williamson has not provided the correspondence and minutes of meetings his department’s officials had with the exams regulator, despite telling the committee in September he was “very open” to sharing the information.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the refusal “beggars belief… It is completely unacceptable and adds insult to injury over this summer’s grading fiasco.

“Students, parents, schools and colleges all deserve full transparency by the government over what discussions and decisions took place in order to understand exactly what went wrong.”

During a committee meeting on September 16, Halfon asked for the department to publish “the minutes of all relevant meetings, submissions and emails between the DfE and Ofqual since March 26”.

The committee is investigating what went wrong after the government was forced into a spectacular U-turn over the controversial algorithm grades, instead issuing pupils their teacher grades.

During the hearing, Williamson acknowledged some of the advice would have been given in confidence and should remain secret.

But he claimed he was “very open” to working with the committee to do the “absolute maximum to ensure that as much information as the committee requires is made available to you”.

Williamson also told the House of Commons in September he will “commit now” to working with the committee to “provide the information that they request wherever it is possible”.

On the same day, schools minister Nick Gibb told MPs: “There are lessons to learn, and we want to be transparent.”

Despite this, Halfon wrote to Williamson on November 10 as the information had not materialised.

He said for the committee to “understand fully what happened here, and to effectively discharge our scrutiny role, we are dependent on accessing the relevant official papers and minutes of meetings relating to this episode”.

Halfon requested the information be sent by Monday (23rd) at the latest. But this request has not been met.

A spokesperson for the committee told Schools Week: “It remains important for the committee to be able to understand the basis for the decisions taken on exams earlier in the year.

“As such, discussions and correspondence between the committee and Department for Education on obtaining the information we requested remain ongoing.”

Shadow education secretary Kate Green told Schools Week that Williamson’s behaviour is “completely unacceptable and an insult to students, their families and teachers. The chaos his Department caused around last summer’s exam results inflicted enormous stress on pupils, parents and teachers who have a right to know why decisions were taken.

“The Government has claimed to want ‘transparency’ and it is shameful that ministers are actively working to prevent this. It’s time they step up and take responsibility for their failings.”

The DfE did not respond to a request for comment.

 



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