Ofqual backs out of promise to publish exams communications

The exams regulator has backed out of a promise to publish the communications and minutes of its meetings with government officials over the exams fiasco.

During the education select committee last week, Ofqual chair Roger Taylor promised MPs the regulator would “publish all the communications and minutes” of meetings they had with Department for Education.

But the regulator has now said the DfE must be asked to release the correspondence as they arranged the meetings and recorded minutes.

They also claimed that a paper prepared for a briefing with the number 10 policy unit on August 7 was “written by the DfE, therefore the committee should approach DfE regarding these documents”. Ofqual only “provided contributions to these papers”.

The claim comes despite Julie Swan, Ofqual’s executive director for general qualifications, tellings MPs last week that: “We briefed No. 10 on 7 August. The paper written there was very alert to the risks of disadvantage to outlier students, to centres that had expected improved grades this year and to the impact on low-entry cohorts, including independent schools.”

Despite promises to be more transparent, Ofqual has also refused to confirm to Schools Week how many times it met with number 10.

Prime minister Boris Johnson last week dodged questions on when he first knew of the grading flaws.

The decision means that the details of weekly meetings between Ofqual and schools minister Nick Gibb and regular meetings between ousted chief regulator Sally Collier and education secretary Gavin Williamson look likely to stay secret.

In a submission to the education select committee, published yesterday, Ofqual said: “Ministerial meetings were arranged by DfE and any minutes would have been recorded by them, therefore the Committee would need to approach DfE regarding these documents.”

Ofqual was heavily criticised by MPs over the lack of transparency of the development of Its algorithm that awarded pupils calculated grades.

Committee chair Robert Halfon said: “To promote transparency, will you publish all the communications and minutes you have had with the Department?”

Taylor responded: “Yes, I think we can do that. We obviously need to discuss with the department whether there is any form of deliberative privilege that they would wish to execute.

“We certainly do not have anything to hide, but I don’t think it is appropriate for us to simply say we will publish correspondence with them without that discussion.”

When challenged again on it, Taylor said: “I will need to talk to the Department. Obviously, the minutes of ministerial meetings are recorded by the Department. So I think I will need to write back to you on that.”

Halfon added: “Okay. But you will have your own minutes and papers that you can publish. Just to confirm, you will publish those for us to see?”

“Yes, we will”, Taylor added.

The regulator will publish its long overdue board minutes later this month, though. The submission to the committee states: “We will publish minutes up to March 2020 shortly. We intend to agree all minutes up to the end of August 2020 at our Board meeting on 16 September 2020 and will publish shortly after that meeting.”

The most recent minutes published are for a board meeting in July last year.