Letter to the Education Secretary

Dear Gavin

You were right to warn us that grade inflation can cause problems for universities allocating limited places to the best candidates. Grade inflation leads to demands for more discriminating higher grades, as with the introduction of the A* to offer some distinction between a large number of students who all came to qualify for an A grade.

It is important that next year the Examining Boards and Ofqual re establish a sound process for awarding grades to students that commands general confidence in the qualifications and allows universities to select the best students for the courses they offer. I am glad to hear that we will be returning to an exam based system. Awarding grades determined by the pupil’s own teachers places the teachers in a difficult position of having to defend the grade, and leaves open the worry that some teachers take a more generous approach to their own students than others. An exam is professionally marked by teachers marking the work of other people’s students, removing the chance of judgement being influenced by personal knowledge and relationship with the pupil. The grade arrived at is recognised as independent of the pupil’s own teacher and school.

Next year the Examiners and the Boards will need to ask themselves how to pitch the standards and the grade boundaries. Should they return to something like the level of 2019, or should they incorporate the grade inflation of 2020? It is an important issue because it will send out a message about how the Examiners see standards. If the best universities and courses stay with similar numbers of UK students between the two years it merely determines how high a grade any given pupil needs to achieve to get to the best institutions. If there are roughly the same total number of places grade inflation has an impact on grades needed to get a place at all.

There will also be questions to resolve over what to expect of A level candidates who lost some months of full time education in school this spring and summer. The Boards will also need to consider what impact if any complying with CV 19 guidance on social distancing will have on their education in the 2020-21 academic year. Will there be any adjustments to practicals, events in subjects like music and drama, foreign language conversations and other elements in some A level assessments? The Boards both need to be fair the class of 2021 and ensure that nonetheless they attain good standards that are comparable to other years.

One thing it should be possible to agree. Getting all exam year pupils back into school and offering them full teaching and good curriculum from here is essential for their education and for maintaining standards. I would appreciate details of your approach to the teaching and standards of exam for 2021.



This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Stephen Priest
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    I wonder if you’ll get a reply to this letter.

    Did you get a reply from Matt Hancock to your previous letter? It would be interesting to see it published.

    Please ask the Government to explain why they are not telling the country that death rate from (or with) Covid 19 is now very low compared to summer flu and pneumonia. Both summer flu and pneumonia deaths are lower than normal according to ONS figures.

    Tell them the best way to get schools back is to announce that we are returning to normal, not some Orwellian New Normal. They should end the Lockdown immediately and repeal the Coronovirus Act 2020.

    • Sharon Jagger
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      I agree! Hear, hear! The Corona Virus Act should be repealed immediately. It’s all way over the top now for a virus which is either asymptomatic or mild!

      When there are 2 million fewer shoppers since the mandatory wearing of face masks – I think that’s telling us something! People aren’t happy. In time nervous people will venture out, but why deter those happy to go out?

      • Anonymous
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:31 am | Permalink

        Also queuing in the streets was all very well when the weather was fine…

        • Narrow Shoulders
          Posted August 20, 2020 at 6:15 am | Permalink

          I disagree, queuing to get into a shop to spend your own money is not fine it was an overreaction and I could not believe how compliant business and customers were.

        • a-tracy
          Posted August 20, 2020 at 10:47 am | Permalink

          I never queued to get in a shop and wouldn’t, I now shop once per month and choose quiet times with no queues for fresh produce from smaller shops.
          I doubt the supermarkets will ever get our weekly shop back we have changed our habit and now spend less.

      • Stephen Priest
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:56 am | Permalink

        A couple of days a go I saw woman on Aldi with a pathetic cloth mask and blue plastic gloves acting as if we were near Chernobyl in 1986.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 9:41 am | Permalink


      • Sea Warrior
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        I appreciate your frustration but there is still some more work to do – especially while some ‘communities’ and age-groups insist on acting irresponsibly. Although some of my elderly aunties are now, timidly, easing themselves into normal life patterns, there’s still a disease out there that would strike them down in the wink of an eye.

    • Caterpillar
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:23 am | Permalink


    • Nigl
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:24 am | Permalink

      I was with an 85 year old friend whose husband had died recently of cancer. She was scathing about the governments panicky inconsistent response in cahoots with the press frughtening people. She doesn’t watch the news anymore.

      She understands people truly at risk need protecting but as a very sprightly woman thinks the governments putting all elderly in an at risk category, condescending rubbish. As she points out more people die because of flu. Also we saw the panic about the beaches, southsea was another one rammoed and the panicky response but where was the projected spike in cases afterwards?

      Her answer as you would expect from an 85 year old. Common sense. If only our lily livered government had some.

      • Andy
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

        Average annual flu deaths: 17,000

        Direct COVID deaths so far: 41,000

        So she points out wrong.

    • M H
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      Totally agree Stephen Priest and Sharon Jagger

      • margaret howard
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        M H

        Makes you wonder why few in the rest of the country or indeed the world, agree with you (or Stephen or Sharon) and are willing to make these tremendous sacrifices to rid the world of this horrendous virus.

        I take it you are all experts with the relevant degrees?

        • Stephen Priest
          Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

          First they put us under house arrest – and I did nothing

          Next they stopped us seeing members of our families – and I did nothing

          Then they told us not to come within 2 metres of another human being – and I did nothing

          Then they told us to wear a mask in supermarkets after saying masks didn’t stop the virus – and I did nothing

          Then they announce that the economy had shrunk by over 20% – and I did nothing

          Then they axed British peoples holiday’s in France and Spain because of a handful of people had tested positive in those countries – and I did nothing

          Then I found out Etc ed

          Then I found out the death rate for Covid 19 was not worse than for season flu – and I did nothing

          Then I found out that the UK death rate from Covid 19 and that of other countries had been massively exaggerated, to include any who have once tested positive for Covid but had died of something completely different – and I did nothing

          Than I found people had been dying of untreated cancer and other serious diseases around the world – and I did nothing

          Then I found out the Coronaviris Act 2020 was set to be renewed for another 2 years with massive state powers to remove our liberties – and I did nothing

          Then I found the United Kingdom was completely bankrupt because there is no magic money forest for all this spending – and I did nothing

          Then it became compulsory to wear a mask against my will, be vaccinated against my will, be tested against my will – and I did nothing

          Then one day I found all the freedom’s we had taken for granted had been taken away from us never to return.

          What had I done to stop it? – NOTHING

          “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end.”

          ― George Orwell, 1984

        • Zorro
          Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

          Money talks Margie 😃


    • Philip P.
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      Various measures in the Coronavirus Act are coming up for renewal next month.

      This is your opportunity, Sir John, to help put this disastrous episode behind us. It would be good to hear you say “No, no, no”.

    • glen cullen
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      Totally agree – remove the economic lockdown and instruct every publically funded employee to get back to work

    • RichardP
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Totally agree Stephen.
      Perhaps if the Government had followed Sweden’s example, and relied on common sense rather than computer programs, we would now be living happily in the old normal and A level students would have received actual exam results rather than worthless ‘Williamson Awards’.

    • zorro
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Good points – will JR confirm that he and colleagues will be holding the government to account on these issues? The Coronavirus Act is due for its six-month review, and all patriotic citizens must lobby their MPs for this crisis to be ended. The Coronavirus Act is draconian as I have analysed in previous posts and is inimical to a free, democratic country. There must be an opposition even if is you JR!


    • zorro
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Great points – we need the Coronavirus Act and its provisions which I have previously analysed to be voted down. It is inimical to a free, democratic country. We need an opposition even if it is you JR!


    • miami.mode
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Hahaha, if he resigns (doubtful he will be fired) an answer definitely won’t be forthcoming and unless any successor feels duty-bound to respond, the letter will be filed accordingly.

    • NickC
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Stephen Priest, Count me in too – I would end the Lockdown immediately and repeal the Coronovirus Act 2020.

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      I see that the very Tory-friendly BBC has a news item headed with the question “How did Gavin Williamson survive U-turn on grades?”.

      Now, I don’t know about you, dear reader, but to me that question asserts a premise, that he has survived, and accordingly that further questions over his survival are now settled.

      Since the U-turn was only days ago, that implicit claim strikes me as a tad premature.

      Those worst affected have had barely time to catch their breath, let alone to agree their collective response.

      • Fred H
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        but you decided on your response pretty swiftly!

      • Edward2
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

        “Tory friendly BBC”
        Hilarious and presumably your idea of provocative satire.

    • acorn
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      “COVID-19 is not a type of flu and describing it as such may not have been very helpful during the early stages of the spread of the infection. It is seems that the emergence of novel coronaviruses, capable of wide spread human-to-human transmission, is to be a feature of 21st century life.

      Scientists around the world have about 8 years to cooperate, develop reliable laboratory tests, effective vaccines and useful treatments and a strong control strategy in time for the next one. It is also important to keep an eye on the bats!”

      (Sarah J Pitt PhD CSci FIBMS is principal Lecturer at University of Brighton and the Chief Virology Examiner, Institute of Biomedical Science.)

      • Edward2
        Posted August 20, 2020 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

        A few years ago Brighton Uni was an FE college.

  2. Mark B
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    Good morning

    Nice letter, Sir John. Not too sure you will get a reply to the last bit about getting students back. Those Public Sector Unions are quite emboldened by this governments weakness.

    Either he gives them notice or he should give his notice.

    • Stephen Priest
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 5:49 am | Permalink

      I saw a picture of Matt Hancock with a “Save the NHS” face mask this morning.

      1) This is the same Matt Hancock who told us face mask were useless “based on the science”. Jonathan Van Tam and Jenny Harries said that same.

      2) The NHS is there to save us, not the other way round.

      • Roy Grainger
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:08 am | Permalink

        The WHO said the same.

      • Anonymous
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:34 am | Permalink


        There was no reason why students couldn’t have taken exams.

        Mocks are taken towards the end of the syllabus – dedicated students will have finished their studies. What did they do in the war ?

        • Lorna
          Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:23 am | Permalink

          Tell that to,teachers ! They opposed exams
          Sadly in UK The media do not report News they decide on a political stance and pursue it mercilessly with the advantage of 24 hr TV and Radio
          Similar changes were made other countries to cope with demands on Universities but the sort of Press furor was not heard

      • Sea Warrior
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        Agreed. The NHS doesn’t come out of this smelling of roses. I suspect that the Life Sciences industry has performed better.

      • glen cullen
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        I think you’ll find it govt policy to save the NHS before the people

        • Lifelogic
          Posted August 19, 2020 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

          Indeed that seem to be the case. “Protect the NHS” please go away and die in a nursing home while infecting others (or at home please). Do not attend A&E without permission.

          This was the clear message.

      • Ian Wragg
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        On Tuesday a friend of mine died. 5 weeks waiting for a stomach scan but not available due to reduction in appointments.
        Died before diagnosis and hospital has given forms to make a complaint.
        Disgraceful behaviour when there are no Covid cases and hospital only working at 60% capacity.

        • Fred H
          Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          How awful for you – a step back to the days pre-NHS.
          It often seems to be gone missing.

          • Lynn Atkinson
            Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

            Pre NHS there was free healthcare – a friend, aged 5 had a TB hip in 1940. They scraped his bones and fixed it, he spent 3 years in hospital in Birmingham recuperating, at a time when the healthcare system was dealing with lots of wounded men.
            All free.

        • Mark B
          Posted August 19, 2020 at 3:29 pm | Permalink


          Sorry to hear this. It tragedies like this that will not get reported, and I believe that deaths like those of your friend will outnumber those that perished during this MASS PANIC.

    • Nigl
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:07 am | Permalink


  3. Cynic
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    Grade inflation at degree level is also a problem.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      Indeed this especially at the lesser universities most of which should probably not exist. As I said before just publish the percentile they got in for GCSEs, A levels, university degrees etc job done. Grade inflation sorted, if the exam is a bit easier or harder or does not matter either.

      The solution of accepting teacher grades is very unfair indeed. Some teacher down graded students down as they were asked to to match past school performance (in effect applying the algorithm but other did not. Some group of student this have a grade lower than they should have at a time with many student from less honest schools have one or two grades higher. These students also have no route to appeal short of some group legal action.

      The main problem with universities is that most degrees are largely worthless and certainly not worth the £50-75K plus 6i% interest they cost, half the students get 3 D or worse and should not be there at all. Kill all student loans for student with less than 3Bs (or perhaps the top 20%) and all soft loans outside sensible subject that are in demand in the work place. Let people pay for their own hobbies or do them part time or on line.

      • Narrow Shoulders
        Posted August 20, 2020 at 6:22 am | Permalink

        No need to publish the percentage (in other years when the exam is taken) just grade on a curve.

        Why is being in the top X% of my Yale class a worthwhile statement but in the second decile of my A level cohort not?

    • Sea Warrior
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      Yep – I would suggest that if the universities won’t sort the problem out then the government legislates on the matter. Limits need to be imposed on how many of each class of degree can be awarded, with higher quotas being available to the better universities. So, the Russell Group, and some others, would be allowed to award more firsts than the likes of UEL. Universities are assessed on teaching quality, so discrimination of this sort can be effected without drama.

      • a-tracy
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        Yes, some Universities require 3 A’s at A level including the subject you are going on to study so one would expect that having creamed off the best students they would then go on to have more Firsts and 2:1 grades.

        Some companies are now insisting on not being able to see the University attended on the application form, what a joke, so a First from a second rate ex-poly that only took 3 C grades to get into, gets considered higher qualification than a 2:2 at a top university.

        We are in a mess with all this.

  4. Nigl
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Ps it is vital you release the communications between you and Ofqual showing you challenged the validity of the algorithm and their assurances and subjected it to independent testing. Of particular importance is the evidence why you ignored the findings of Halfon’s committee.

    Regrettably unless it is clear that there was nothing further you could have done, you need to consider your position because the public will have zero faith in you and therefore the government.

    Equally if you were put in an untenable position it will be expected that those responsible in your department and Ofqual suffer the consequences of their actions.

    Merely blaming officials without the evidence being published will reinforce a view that you are trying to hold on to your job at their expense.

    • Andy
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      The algorithm was designed to meet ministerial requirements to avoid grade inflation.

      Releasing correspondence would demonstrate that zero thought was given to the young people involved.

      But then this government of the old has always shown contempt for the young.

      • NickC
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        Andy, But then you have always shown contempt for the old. So nothing you say about the old has any value.

        • Fred H
          Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

          I think you meant to write:
          ‘nothing you say about anything has any value’.

          We know what you intended.

      • a-tracy
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        Andy, how much thought do you believe was given to previous years students who didn’t meet the grades they were predicted and lost University places due to this. Sometimes due to their new A level year Tutor not teaching a module that they’d thought an AS level teacher had covered, or a teacher whose coursework mark dropped the externally examined grade down just because perhaps they didn’t care for the child or didn’t like their writing style.

      • Edward2
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        Grades under the algorithm were up 2.4% on last year’s results.
        So you are wrong.
        As usual.

      • margaret howard
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 3:11 pm | Permalink


        And not just any old young but those most disadvantaged living in the less desirable post codes.

        I don’t suppose it applied to the sons and daughters of our MPs or indeed the rest of the establishment. They send their offspring to the ‘right’ schools in the first place rather than any old comprehensives.

        • Edward2
          Posted August 20, 2020 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

          But these schools got better results every exam year.
          Are you really saying comps are not very good?

          • hefner
            Posted August 23, 2020 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

            Things have to be compared like for like: A teacher is more likely to get better results from a class with 20 pupils than a teacher with 30 pupils. Even more so if the teacher in the private school may at times get some dedicated helpers for some of the courses.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

        😂😂Hancock, Williamson – old! You mean over school age?

      • miami.mode
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

        Andy, please define old.

    • rose
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      PPS Did we have an opportunity here, with some universities threatening to go to the wall, to reduce the numbers overall? The only way to raise standards and encourage young people into much needed technical training. Instead it looks as if we may be going to augment them to accommodate many pupils who don’t sound academic at all. Just because, as usual, the media have whipped up an emotional row to topple the Government. I see there is a case for educating more doctors and dentists, but not for the other subjects.

      • a-tracy
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        If foreign students aren’t coming this year and some children are deferring because they don’t wish to go to University this first Term with online teacher and no socials – there will be spaces opened up that the Universities want filling, they can always kick them off the courses next year when they go on to fail.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Only the PM can write that to a Sec of State.

      • margaret howard
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 3:16 pm | Permalink


        Why doesn’t he tweet? After all what’s good enough for the POTUS ………………..!!!!!

        • Lynn Atkinson
          Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

          Yes it would be an improvement, but his tweets would never equal those of POTUS who bypassed the corrupt media in a brilliant stroke.
          Maybe come November 2024 we can tempt Trump to come home and save us?

    • Grahame ASH
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Just a reminder in case it has been forgotten in the rush to blame the govt, that according to Wikipedia
      Ofqual’s role is “to maintain standards and confidence in qualifications.”

  5. Ian @Barkham
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    Good morning

    With you on your letter.

    The feeling is that what has become a politically motivated teaching service and not a profession will have a tendency to pat themselves on their backs at the expense of their students.

    All to often what we call teachers go off and create a narrative related to their political beliefs rather than give their students the skills to learn, investigate and form their own opinions. Is teaching really about telling. Or is it about creating the ability to learn.

    Without failure there is no learning. Give every one the same grade and they are your followers not tomorrows explorers.

    • Caterpillar
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:29 am | Permalink

      I would suggest that the obsession with learning & academic skills has reduced the actual amount of learning. It has devalued knowledge. This has produced a gap into which political beliefs can be implanted.

  6. Sea Warrior
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    May I suggest that the easiest counter to grade inflation is for the Department of Education to mandate clear limits to how many awards at each grade can be awarded, for both A-levels and GCSEs. For instance, A-grades would only go to the top 10%. (A*s can be done away with; they were only necessary because there wasn’t any grade-discipline being enforced.)
    P.S. And the very low pass-mark requirements for some courses – as low as 17%, I believe – needs lifting. Why? Because some universities allow students in with just one ‘E’ – and its immoral to load such students with debt and unfair on tax-paying me to subsidise them while they enjoy an emotional development-pausing ‘experience’.

    • GilesB
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:47 am | Permalink


      The most significant use of exam results is to compare students WITHIN the same cohort. Fixed percentages of A, B, etc allows this.

      Comparisons BETWEEN cohorts are much less relevant for individual cases, although of course it is informative about the effectiveness of learning and development over time. This need is best addressed by Ofqual publishing an index indicating changes, positive or negative, over time. Of course such comparisons are difficult due to changes in the syllabus, which is another reason why it should not be attempted through the grade mix.

      Your P.S. is valid too. Far too many students tricked into wasting three years on very poor courses from which they’ll get no value. The 50% target was introduced by manipulative Tony Blair solely to lower the headline unemployment rate.

    • Everhopeful
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      One solution would be to go back to the notion that higher education is only for the very intelligent.

      • Al
        Posted August 20, 2020 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        “One solution would be to go back to the notion that higher education is only for the very intelligent.” – Everhopeful

        Or further back to the idea that University was for the academically inclined, and those of a more practical bent would study practical courses. For that to happen however, you would have to get rid of the widespread idea that degrees are mandatory for all employment above the basic.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      No the easiest was is just to publish the position percentile in the batting order of those sitting the exam each year.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        Or if you think 100 grades is too many then perhaps 5% divisions so just 20 X 5% percent divisions in the batting order. With 1 the top 5% and 20 the bottom. Not the absurd reverse 1-9 grades some fool came up to for GCSEs (Under VAT on school fees Michael Gove was it?).

        • Narrow Shoulders
          Posted August 20, 2020 at 6:32 am | Permalink

          Publishing the percentage itself does not indicate how the student did against the rest of the cohort.

          89% sounds like a good mark but, if everyone else got over 90% it is not a good mark.

          Grading on the curve is the only way to indicate relative ability.

          • a-tracy
            Posted August 20, 2020 at 11:26 am | Permalink

            Quite right NS and why not do this? Sort out this years GCSE quibble, easy enough to put on the certificate.

          • Lifelogic
            Posted August 20, 2020 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

            Not the percentage mark but the percentile position relative to all the others who took the exam!

      • Caterpillar
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        The situation is slightly odd. I agree that z-scoring students based on exams is a good comparative technique. For this to work well, i.e. high signal to noise, the examinations need to be designed to discriminate well. That said, once one has sufficiently discriminating exams, grades are O.K. after all.

        (This year exams could have been taken and even if there were an argument that schools were at different stages through the curricula, the results could have been used to give the rankings to feed into the Ofqual algorithm, which in this case would likely have been for upward adjustment).

      • Sea Warrior
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        That would work. Interesting idea.

    • glen cullen
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      That was the system pre-Blair era

      • BJC
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        I do wonder whether anyone ever stops to think just how much serious damage Blair has done to this country and our constitution. EU, devolution, HRA, immigration, education, NHS, HOL and the Middle East to name but a few. And the left dare to despise Maggie Thatcher?

        • glen cullen
          Posted August 20, 2020 at 8:34 am | Permalink

          ….and he and his government didn’t actually have a policy to help the traditional working class

    • MWB
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      This is what used to happen in the days when I was taking exams. These days, it almost appears that working hard is the sole justification for a certificate, not the reults of that hard work.

    • PB
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Along the same vein, it used to be that the top 10% were awarded a 1st (or an A grade), the next 40% a 2.1 (B), the next 40% a 2.1 (C) and the bottom 10% 3rd (D) or a fail. Some institutions still follow this scheme. Someone ending up with 81% this year may be in the bottom half of the class whereas last year 80% was in the top half. You are accessing an individual comparative to the class or exam taken set by that particular Board.

  7. Caterpillar
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    If we remember, it will be interesting to check in 3 years whether HEI grades have gone down or whether the continued rise in the number of 2.1s and 1sts has continued (gone are the days when a pass degree meant something, and honours really meant something). Sending up more weaker students to university is an opportunity to reset degrees to meaningfully challenging intellectual endeavours. It is chance for universities to fail students in the first term/semester and throw them out, not coddle them to a 2.1 or 1st in 3 years. It is a chance for universities to clearly distinguish between students, a chance to act with integrity.

    • a-tracy
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      They’ll want a clear-out after year 1 to make space for all the extra applicants from home and abroad next year! I feel sorry for the teens kidded by over-egged teachers grades.

  8. agricola
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    My advice would be to keep it simple. If time is short in this final A level year starting September then crop the length of Christmas and Easter holidays and,let the exams run into July/ August. Eliminate half terms. Look for time saving in the curriculum. Exams should be a test of potential, not of knowing everything.

    Base the places at university on independently marked exam papers. Cut out all the social engineering crap. Life in the real world of work does not recognise it. Politics is not the real world. Why create the illusion during education years that it does. If public education establishments are inferior to private ones it has been in the hands of successive governments to rectify it by upping the standards and facilities. It is not the fault of the private education industry. The blame is with politicians. Since 1960 and onwards, politicians have indulged in creating an equal society but only at the front end, ignoring all the factors that make it unequal. What is required is equal opportunity commensurate with ability from birth to work.

    • a-tracy
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      There is an easy test for this agricola, take a random sample from an accused private school and the same number of students from a random sample from the “those most disadvantaged living in the less desirable postcodes.” that margaret mentions above (I attended one of those which I suspect she didn’t).

      Give them the same test, one of those that employers or universities set. No revision time, just test knowledge, actual retained knowledge and compare.

      My son used to argue when I constantly reminded him to revise,
      “Mum it’s a test on what you actually know not just a memory test”.

  9. Nigl
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    I cannot escape the feeling that once again someone is being kept in post because of their political ability, knowing ‘where the bodies are buried’ potentially awkward on the back benches etc rather than being up to the job.

    We deserve better and it is no wonder that many senior senior officials and the Quangos are similar. I see the head of PHE is going to be retained as an adviser. Why when the reason that the changes are being made is because his organisation failed?

  10. Bryan Harris
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    It strikes me as perverse that UK students are struggling to get the university places they seek when there are so many foreign students at our universities — Shouldn’t we be filling OUR universities with OUR students before topping up from abroad?

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      No. The universities need the money that overseas student bring in they are often pay double or more in fees and spend money here. Far too many student go to uni and get duff degrees plua £50-75K of debt round their necks plus interest too and loss of earnings.

      • a-tracy
        Posted August 20, 2020 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        If they come in from Europe, we give them student loans to pay the fees and let them go to Uni in Scotland for just over a grand.

    • miami.mode
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      BH, it seems foreign students have to pay more.

      Have just heard on TV that UK medical students are rationed as there is a contribution from the government. You would think that there would be some sort of mechanism to reclaim the contribution if, after graduating, the individual did not work for a certain length of time within the NHS. It can only lead to more immigration of people with the requisite skills.

    • Caterpillar
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      I think this depends on the purpose of our universities and which universities. I believe ‘our’ most able students should battle with the most able international students for positions at the best universities, this means ‘we’ will be producing top students for the economy. So this must take place on merit not ring fencing, and if our students cannot compete then our feed-in education must improve.

    • M Davis
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      Try telling that to the morons at the ‘top’. Downhill all the way from the ‘fifties’.

    • Bryan Harris
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      Amazing that money has to feature so easily in such discussions — By all means educate those that will use that education to work against us by making their countries better at certain things and endangering our economy, but make them pay seriously for it.

      We all know blair’s inane changes to the education system have all but ruined it with fake expectations, degrees and aspirations… Education needs rebuilding from the ground floor up —- In the meantime let’s make sure it is better than fair for the UK

  11. Jim
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Even 2021 will be an anomalous year what with a slow start and pupils having had a very mixed run up to 2021 exams. More whining and grizzling next year.

    As is well known ‘if you need statistics, what you really need is a better measurement’. Statistics are useful where there are repeated trials, in one-off events we are reduced to ‘taking a view’. Eventually Covid will become less disruptive and normal statistical methods will once again be a useful guide. Until then prepare to ‘take a view’ in 2021.

    There is a certain rough justice to the present uni entry system. But as usual ‘scum and cream always rise’. In this coming year the virtues of hard work and diligent study will pay dividends more than ever.

    There has been a certain lack of frankness about getting teachers back to work. Essentially we are asking teachers to take a risk with their lives. Perhaps a Covid illness bonus of £250K and a Covid death-in-service benefit of say £5 million would help things along. Gavin could put our money where his mouth is.

    • a-tracy
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Narrow Shoulders had a solution for this just give the grade comparison against that year’s cohort they are all similarly affected, Jim.

  12. Jiminyjim
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Excellent letter, Sir John. Unfortunately everything becomes meaningless if the government collapses every time there is media pressure about anything. They really do need to grow a pair if they’re to be re-elected.

    • M Davis
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

      Grow a pair? You must be joking!

  13. Adam
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Labour dealt with grade inflation by appointing incompetent people to the shadow front bench. The risk is that some low-grade people could become ministers. Fortunately, there are many ways of assessing quality performance which paper qualifications cannot conceal.

    Even so, grade inflation is a slippery slope toward worst. Exams to assess national standards of school pupils should be independent, and rigorous, and strong.

  14. Roy Grainger
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Why are you writing to Gavin Williamson about 2021 ? He won’t be education secretary then.

    • Fred H
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      spin the Ministers wheel and see where it stops?

  15. Lifelogic
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    It is rather depressing that Trump (one of the few leaders who understands that climate alarmism is at best a huge exaggeration and as worst an expensive, job destroying con trick) might not win.

    Michel Obama’s speech certainly put me off Biden he is guided by faith she said and is guided by science. I assume this means he has faith in the climate alarmist religion too. The rest of the speech was the usual identity polices, chip on the shoulder, politics of envy drivel. Designed to appeal to emotions over brain.

    Trump is right to say he would not have won in 2016 if it weren’t for the job done in office by his predecessor Barack Obama. He was a dreadful president with duff misguided policies. Biden would be too.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Trump is far from perfect to say the least but he is far, far preferable.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

        Trump is pretty perfect. He has brought the Arab world and Israel together and united them against the Palestinians.
        Unbelievable achievement, unparalleled.
        He will win.

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted August 20, 2020 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

          Since the Palestinians are mainly Arabs too, how could he have united them, even if your wild claim were true?

        • Lifelogic
          Posted August 20, 2020 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

          I am not sure I would go so far as to say “perfect” but he is sound on the climate alarmist expensive energy lunacy and clearly far better than Biden and Obama.

          For that alone he deserved to be re-elected.

    • Ed M
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 4:09 pm | Permalink


      The religion versus science thing is a false dichotomy!

      1. Science (and that there is relative order in the universe) is one argument for the existence of a rational Higher Being (an argument which may or not be convincing but still an argument – but is certainly convincing to many).
      2. Many of the greatest scientists – and composers with there being a strong overlap between music and maths – were very religious (and didn’t have to be): Sir Isaac Newton, Bach, Mozart, Faraday, Maxwell, Mendel, Pascal, Planck, Heisenberg, Kelvin, and so on.
      3. Our great universities Oxford and Cambridge were founded by religious men.

      Religion simply says when science is applicable or not which involves Faith. But faith also involves other things such as how to live when you have all the science at your fingertips but you’re still unhappy, and when science clearly isn’t enough to be happy and where you need things like love, the arts, imagination, mystery and so on.

      • Ed M
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        And faith is about profoundly more too

    • Ed M
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 5:46 pm | Permalink


      Imagine what our great country would be like if it was ordered to the music of Bach! Order, Logic, Beauty, Mystery!

      Bach’s music is completely Christian in its spirit. It sums up, in music. so much about what (traditional) Christianity is about.

      And same for Mozart’s music – although I’d also add that his music also contains more personality which is also Christian.

      Is it no wonder they were both devout Christians. Bach – Protestant and Mozart – Catholic.

      • Ed M
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

        Concert for piano 5 10 Bach (like listening to the voice of God – or perhaps it’s only just the voice of an angel of God ..)

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:27 am | Permalink

        I do like Bach, I remember BBC having a Bach only Christmas some years back which was very good. Now it is almost as bad as Classic FM. Even radio three is a dumbed down lefty propaganda outfit much of the time.

        • Ed M
          Posted August 20, 2020 at 10:27 am | Permalink

          If have a bad day, I really recommend Greg Gould’s version of Bach’s Concerto for Piano in F Minor, 2nd Movement. It’s like Bach is using the piano (harpsichord) to reorder his soul – the world – the universe!

          What is so extraordinary for me isn’t just the beauty of the music – but how it is on the one hand so simple and on the other so complex. One reason, I think, why I can listen to it again and again without getting tried of it.

          Although this piece of music is subtle, Bach can easily go to the other extreme – music with great power like in first part of Christmas Oratorio.

          Be interesting to hear what you think about it from a mathematical perspective.

  16. Sir Joe Soap
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    “A level candidates who lost some months of full time education in school this spring and summer.”
    So that is now assumed as prior knowledge, and why it happened and how it might be avoided isn’t questioned?

    You are falling into the pit of assumed incompetence which the government has already fallen headlong into, where you don’t even question past incompetence because of even greater incompetence facing you now.

    Everything about this government, its people, its policies, its actions and even you assuming the dreadfulness of all this, tell me this is all on a slippery slope to Labour taking over.

  17. NickC
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    JR, The biggest problem in returning to school (and work!) this autumn will be the advent of the usual seasonal coronaviruses (the common cold). It seems to me there should be testing facilities provided by the NHS for people with a cold to assure fellow pupils or work colleagues that sufferers are free of covid19. Otherwise the lockdown will become permanent.

    • Everhopeful
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      But can they tell the difference?

    • a-tracy
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      Yes Nick +1
      Public sector workers are also covered with full pay if they have to self-isolate because they’ve been asked to quarantine, the sme sector isn’t covered and employees get £95.85 per week.

  18. Nigl
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Good letter in the DT from a recent A level taker saying how much your governments decision devalues previous students efforts pointing out the obvious re grade inflation that you seem to accept so you are also culpable. Williamson should resign and you should not have given in to a baying mob. Quite.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      The pupils with honest predictions have been cheated with devalued grades the one at the less honest more optimistic school rewarded circa 50% more A and A*s. With no appeal system for them either.

    • Everhopeful
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      Don’t you know what you have to do to “Build Back Better?”
      Not a new phrase. ( Here employed like the other three word mind-messers). Used in 2004, post tsunami.
      Everything has to be wrecked before you can build back better.
      You have to destroy everything.
      Boris’s ( and other leader’s of “Free West”😂) fave motto à ce moment!

  19. Everhopeful
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    This is all a nightmare continuation of what was going on under May.
    Boris is not up to this.
    Just do something!

    • Fred H
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      what do you want? The Conservative MPs to demand Boris be deposed?
      In your dreams!
      Judging by the last few years’ activities – most are spineless, good job we have Sir John who confronts very difficult issues and invites often painful reaction.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

      +1. Boris must go.

  20. Richard1
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    P.S. why don’t you look at re-sits for anyone who wants to do them in oct or Nov and tell the universities to delay the start of their new academic years until Jan? It is in fact no hardship as all they have to do is squeeze 6 months’ teaching time into the 9 months Jan-Sept 2021. It shouldn’t be beyond the wit of man.

    PPS. Predictably the universities are demanding yet more public funds. Please make sure these are available only for rigorous academic courses. Please don’t fund extra places for nonsense courses like gender studies and please exclude any formerly rigorous courses which have now been devalued and undermined by cultural Marxism.

    • a-tracy
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      A good measure would be to only allow boost funds for courses that the students that graduated 5 years ago are now paying off the interest on student loans (if not the core loan).

  21. Lifelogic
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    I listen to the select committee on the economic impact of Covid 19 BBC parliament. The ex-Chancellors Darling, Hammond and Osborne all talking complete and utter economic drivel.

    Darling was at least right on about HS2 though – the other two dopes in favour of it of course.

    Osborne perhaps the most idiotic of the lot.

    “It has reminded us of the reason we have a very large state is that it can step in there and privided for us at a time and of great need a reminder of the awsome power of government. If you want the protection of the state you need to pay you taxes!” he said.

    The awesome power of the state to destroy the economy by being too large, largely inept, hugely wasteful and by taxing and regulating to death the productive sector. Thus destroying jobs. 20% of GDP for the state sector is plenty and far better for everyone that way you idiots. Taxes are way to high for the good of the economy.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Then we got Hammond:- something like “the biggest problem we have is low productivity and despite all we (and government) have done it remains stubbornly remains”.

      It is not DESPITE you silly man it is BECAUSE of OTT government. All the high complex taxes, the endless red tape, restrictive planning and daft employment laws, the expensive unreliable energy/religion agenda, the Committee on climate change lunacy, the lack of real or fair competition in education and health care, the dire BBC ……. How on earth do any of these “improve“ productivity or the economy or generate jobs you misguided dope?

      • Andy
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        Endless red tape?

        Like what?

        And, a reminder, it is your hiring 50,000 new bureaucrats for your Brexit.

        To process the 200+m new extra forms needed. In your billion pound lorry parks.

        • Fred H
          Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

          yawn….fast rewind, press play. Tape worn out yet?
          Sadly No.

        • Lynn Atkinson
          Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

          Andy we are ‘creating 50,000 jobs’ – why are you not ecstatic?

        • Al
          Posted August 20, 2020 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

          Try the requirement that a job cannot state that speaking English is essential, because it is deemed to discriminate on race.

          This applies even when it is essential. For example, when the role is as a professional Editor (for articles to be published in English) or working in a call centre with English-speaking clients, to give just two of the times this idiocy has hit the press. Cases I know of date back to 2006 (when Phillip Hammond got nowhere trying to resolve it as Shadow Minister), through 2011 (when Ian Duncan Smith tried to tackle it), and it is still happening.

          Even the CRE thinks it is ridiculous, and has indicated that ‘speaking english’ and ‘race’ are not identical, and English should count as a linguistic skill.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      Way too high that is!

  22. Nigel
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    This quote from the Spectator says it all :

    “One of the handy things about Westminster is that when a policy goes wrong, there are always about ten different people or organisations that could feasibly take the blame. Often, this means that no one is really held accountable, but sometimes it means a minister with executive power can shift the blame for a failure in his or her portfolio on to the agency charged with delivering that failed policy. This week we’ve seen not one but two examples of this. The first is Gavin Williamson seeking to save his own bacon by blaming Ofqual for the A-level results fiasco despite considerable anger towards the Education Secretary within his own party. The second is the decision to scrap Public Health England.”

    • formula57
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      The Spectator magazine should tell us something we do not know! The purpose of quangos has been evident for many years.

    • Everhopeful
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      They want to get rid of quangos.
      See if Williams goes.

  23. Longus
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Exams fiasco is down to the teachers. Most schools only provide A level revision after Easter for their students so minimal supervision was required. A level exams should have been taken – desks are spaced apart for exams anyway so adding a bit more should not have been an issue. Government are idiots for allowing teaching unions to deflect blame.

  24. bigneil(newercomp)
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Heard on the radio that the govt is to open up more places for doctors courses at Universities, but are concerned about the cost as the courses are subsidised. Yet illegals are ferried in to stay in hotels and will probably be “subsidised” with benefits, cash, NHS, dental care, housing etc etc for the rest of their lives. Plenty of cash for looking after them isn’t there? Doctors are useful. Filling this country up with 3rd worlders isn’t – unless the govt has a hidden agenda.

    Also heard someone on about the Oxford vaccine trial for Covid. I heard him say that everyone will HAVE to have the jab. REALLY?

    • Fred H
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      the Australian PM floated the idea that vaccination might be mandatory this morning….quickly backtracked!!

    • a-tracy
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Agree with you bigneil. The government must also look just how many courses they fund (and where) where the students five years after graduating aren’t earning enough to even start to repay the interesting on their outstanding tuition loans – that is where the real waste is – not in training doctors and nurses!

    • forthurst
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      Medical schools take more women than men as there are more good girls schools than those available exclusively for boys. In addition, the examination system has been attenuated to play to the strengths of females. The majority of female doctors do not do night calls, do have children and then work part time. The dogma of feminism, part of the globalist plan to destroy Western civilisation, according to which, women are identical to men in all respects and can do everything a man can do, also means that fairness dictates the right of women to compete equally for places at medical school. There is not a shortage of doctors; there is a severe shortage of male doctors and far too many female doctors who do reward the investment in their education.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        The whole NHS is part-time because it’s overwhelmingly female.

      • Sharon Jagger
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 9:31 pm | Permalink


        I read something a while ago that was also saying that more females than males train as doctors, but that most female doctors go on to work part time.

        Which actually leaves a shortfall of doctors.

  25. Everhopeful
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    100,000 pupils qualified for “uni”(yuk)?
    Not enough places and no banks or factories to work in! Can’t go backpacking now!
    Problem (self made). Response ( we’ll “wing it”) Solution ( Build Back “Better“).
    One can only begin to imagine what the replacement education system will be like!
    Virus enabled chaos.
    The madness is unbearable.

    I suppose everyone is aware that since just after the war totally unsuitable people, at first ex service men and since then many women…have been “emergency trained” as teachers? And also that teacher training was for those who either did not take A levels or did badly at them?
    Right up until 1973 a graduate could go straight into teaching and then the govt. decided that regulation was required. ie teachers needed to be less intelligent and had to be brainwashed.
    I also happen to know that Marxism was/is DEFINITELY part of the TT curriculum.

  26. turboterrier
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Sir John

    Is not a lot of the problems with our present educational system is that in answering of demands that every child has the right to attend university that the school curriculum has been somewhat dumbed down by module assessment. All well and fine but when you finally embark one career in the real world it is nothing like the way you have been taught and experienced up until that moment. Never was quite sure who benefitted from the module testingexperiment The teacher or the pupils.

    Gone are the days in trade exams when at the ended each year you sat an exam with no multi choice questions just a question sheet and a blank answer paper. Very good preparation for your final-intermediate exams for City and Guilds certificates. More importantlyittaught you to have to meet targets and work under pressure.

    Could it be that teacher unions and universities have lost sight of their original aims to produce the best of the best?. It is heart breaking to see so many young people burdened with debt for a degree that is neither use or ornament in the real world just to satisfy those who demand and expect children from every sector of society be given their university chance.When the reality is they end up serving espresso coffee or a banks man in a builders yard. Should not government carry out a review on what exactly is value for money in some of the courses being run by universities? I think that taxpayers are owed that much as ultimately it is they that pick up the pieces when the wheels come off of these young dreams and aspirations.

  27. John S
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    When I was at school, to discriminate between the good and the very good, there was a scholarship paper. To get into Oxbridge one had to achieve 3 ‘A’ levels and 2 ‘S’ levels. Your ‘S’ level did not count unless you achieved a minimum C grade in that subject at ‘A’ level. This was a perfectly good system until it was scrapped for no good reason.

    • Caterpillar
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      In Mathematics,

      Oxford, Imperial and Warwick take the MAT paper; Cambridge and Warwick take the STEP papers.

  28. a-tracy
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    What is the main point of the A level mark? For example:
    Is it meant to be a measure of your performance compared to that year’s cohort?
    Is it set at the same level of questioning every year and should show that every year is improving over the previous year? Is teaching improving every single year? Is each year getting better at learning to pass exams?

    5% get A*
    15% get A
    20% get B
    40% get C
    10% get D
    5% get E
    4% get F
    1% get U

    • Narrow Shoulders
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Quite. Go back to grading on a curve.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      Why not just give people’s percentile or 5 percentile simples and they cannot fix it for endless grade inflation!

  29. Andy
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    My letter to the Education Secretary:

    Dear Gavin,

    If I were as useless at my job as you are at yours I would quit in embarrassment.

    You have let down our country’s young people.

    An honourable man would resign.



    • NickC
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      My letter to Andy:

      Dear Andy,

      If I were as useless at commenting as you are I would quit in embarrassment.

      You have let down our country’s young people, middle-aged people, and old people.

      An honourable man would quit.



      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

        😂😂 spot on! Silence Andy when you don’t know what is going on. In your case, permanent silence!

    • Glenn Vaughan
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 3:47 pm | Permalink


      Before you can quit a job you need to get a job. I suggest you tackle the latter task before you concern yourself with the former.

  30. Stred
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Sensible letter which will be opened by a civil servant and placed in the pending tray while Gavin is busy covering his backside. When the head of OFSTEAD says that all of our pupils are brilliant, while they are languishing at the lower ranks of the international assessments, nothing will be done. The universities do not need intelligent students to fill their mickey mouse courses. The dimmer the better to swallow the nonsense of diversity studies and go on to provide compulsory education for the employees of corporations. For STEM subjects, the universities really need to set their own exams. In a medical school that I am familiar with, they find British students who do not know what a percentage is and have to be taught how to understand dilutions.

    • a-tracy
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Some do Stred my son was told he required 4 A grade A levels, or 3 A grade and a STEP paper (including Maths and Further Maths) to take a four-year Maths degree.

  31. Iain Gill
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Stop the artificial constraints imposed by government on courses like medicine, allow those in who want to study it, and stop the need to import foreign doctors when they qualify.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      +1 and nurses – of course that removes the excuse to import ‘medics’.

    • Anonymous
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately many of our young doctors choose to work in the ANZAC nations or go part time.

      • Iain Gill
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        yes and we should replace the NHS with a direct copy of the Australian/New Zealand health systems, which would fix a lot of that.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

        Because the NHS is do depressing to work in!

  32. DrPeterVC
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    This fiasco has demonstrated that the quango Ofqual is simply not fit for purpose. Many years ago I was accepted into my chosen university by taking a university entrance exam for that university, I had my result in February of that year to start in the October. I was only required to get 2 Es at A level.

    The exam boards “back in the day” were run by the universities – it was in their interest to moderate their own acceptance criteria. The de-coupling of exam boards into money making private organisations like Edexcel (owned by Pearsons) has been a massive mistake. The financial interests of the schools, the exam boards, universities and FE colleges seem to have become a higher priority than the educational advancement of their students.

    Perhaps you could ask how the whole university entrance selection procedure should be overhauled to make it much fairer. Remember that it was already being criticised last year because initial university offers were being made on teacher assessments (predicted grades). This Covid crisis has yet again highlighted the weakness of many of our pre-existing bodies.

    • formula57
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      @ DrPeterVC ” The de-coupling of exam boards into money making private organisations like Edexcel (owned by Pearsons) has been a massive mistake.”


  33. David Brown
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I agree with the narrative in your letter its a sensible route to take
    Personally A levels are ok but on balance IB is better and its a sad not more schools are offering it.
    Student fees is always a hot topic and I believe education should be free and paid for by tax payers inc me. Any way fees are a complex devisive topic

    • Sea Warrior
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Doesn’t the breadth of the IB mean that those going on to study STEM at university would be even less well prepared for rigorous single-subject study than they are at the moment?

    • forthurst
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      At the moment only about 17% of student debt is repaid in full and the proportion of student debt written off by the government about 45%. Student are required to pay back debt when earning more than £20,000 when national average earnings are almost £30,000. What this demonstrates is that it makes no sense for a significant proportion of the population to attend tertiary courses in Arts bollox etc and for taxpayer to fund the highly predictable shortfall in student debt repayment.

    • Anonymous
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      One of my twins did IB the other A level – both leaning towards STEM.

      No comparison in the workload. The IB was waaaay more demanding if time at the coalface is the measure of it.

  34. Mike Stallard
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    The Unions, the public, everyone demanded that the schools be closed way back. We all did.

    Please give me one example of a child who has died purely from Covid in the world.

    Closed schools cannot do exams. We all knew this. So when a deal was fixed up with the Unions and the teachers, and when lots of people lost out (as they always do anyway in exams/coursework), why is the government solely to blame and poor old Gavin in for the chop? Teenage girls are very convincing aren’t they! Especially when weeping or very, very cross on t.v.

    Do people honestly think that sacking one minister will solve the problem of the endless quangos which misgovern us at the moment?

    • a-tracy
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      One moment Mike, we didn’t ‘all’ say schools should close for six months.

      Many people wanted schools to re-open for certain year groups after the Easter Break, and certainly by May and June when exams were to have been taken this should have been possible, desks are apart, there would have been plenty of spare classrooms and teachers available to invigilate, safely behind screens like the supermarket workers. How many teens are we talking about to sit GCSE’s and A levels about 800,000 all around the Country?

      Don’t forget many primary schools were opened for children of key workers, did you hear of many of these contracting the virus? Or their teachers? We would have done.

      By May testing was ramped up and pupils who felt they had covid could have been tested. How many under 18s were admitted into hospital or seen with serious symptoms.

    • miami.mode
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      MS, a rather glib comment. According to this report in the Guardian 5 children have died in the UK from CV19.


    • Mark B
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 4:12 am | Permalink


      He is part of the government which imposed this lock down and therefore part of the problem. The troubles are his and of his colleagues making.

  35. Everhopeful
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Brilliant vid of JR talking to Syed Kamall on Order Order.
    All about Marxism!!

    • formula57
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      Agreed, although not a lot new for us Redwoodistas. The points about the digital revolution and the green revolution and the place of China I found illuminating and would welcome further continuing discussion.

      (I watched on YouTube. Should I now pay the uninvolved but greedy BBC £157.50 for the privilege?)

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 6:26 am | Permalink

      To what countries on Earth is that relevant?

      Not even N Korea claims to be marxist.

  36. Lifelogic
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Andy Burnham (English Fitz, Camb. says the grades this year were not devalued and students should not accept and think that they are.

    So is he A:- a liar trying to win votes, B:- a damn fool, C:- he has not bothered to look at the figures or think?

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 6:31 am | Permalink

      I wouldn’t be quite so universally disdainful about people without science degrees if I were you.

      One of our best engineers in my previous sphere was a French graduate. He was self-taught in what he needed for engineering in the digital realm.

      Smart people are just that.

  37. Lynn Atkinson
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Day after day you identify departments battling with Herculean tasks that they are not and never will be equipped to handle.
    The Govt must downsize. Education vouchers, health vouchers, each able to be ‘topped up’ are the way forward. Parents must recover full responsibility for the education and health of their children, and for providing them with lunch in the summer holidays!
    We want the Government to do only the things that only a Government can do, Defence, Justice, Tax, and to do them well. No ‘trade’ in citizenship – God makes British people. No Green crap, no fines for going about your business without a mask etc etc etc.
    Repeal the draconian emergency legislation today, which I feel is illegal anyway, it breaches our Constitution and our human rights!
    On CV19 the Governemnt has acted like a Terrorist Organization. It has successfully terrorised a large portion of the population!
    Pared back government is the New Normal that we simply must have because we can’t carry on like this, and neither can they. They are a laughing stock worldwide as was May’s Government. If this is not delivered, the New Normal will be imposed by the people and the Government might not like it much.

    • David Brown
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      While you seem to be on a roll to get rid of things my suggestion is
      Get rid of all Religions in this country totally they do nothing and serve no purpose

      • Edward2
        Posted August 21, 2020 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

        Go on then Dave.
        Start the protest movement yourself.
        Which religion you going to start on?

  38. Mick
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I see that the university’s are now shouting for more money because of the mistakes made by the government to cover the extra influx of students. I think they should go coco, if the university’s had a idea this was going to be a big cock up then they should have held back a week before giving away places to students, it wasn’t rocket science

  39. John Hatfield
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    There needs to be some pressure on students to concentrate, where appropriate, on science and mathematical subjects. Too much art, business and social studies do nothing for the country or the individual. A mon avis.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

      If you can just get students to concentrate it would be revolutionary!

    • Caterpillar
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

      I would suggest that problems trace back to the failure of many pupils to achieve high grades in GCSE Mathematics and English. If the former is not achieved there is no early foundation to proceed to solid understanding of the STEM subjects, nor the quantitative aspects of the social sciences. These are the fundamentally easy higher subjects as they have a limited normative element with which to contend, they are largely positivistic. They are seen as hard due to the early failing in mathematics. The qualitative elements of the social sciences and humanities are much more challenging in principle due to a large normative element. To develop within these students need strong language and critical skills.

      It is not that it is impossible for more pupils to achieve higher grades in GCSE Mathematics and English without reducing level. This has clearly been shown by the much larger percentage of pupils identified as Chinese or Indian in the statistics (even if receiving free school meals – the poverty proxy) achieving these higher grades. Whether white, black or other Asian, the other groups on average do far worse. There must be a fundamental cultural/contact difference between the two ‘leading’ groups and the others (- and surveys in the UK of what parents value in their children, and observational studies of home behaviour in the USA support this).

      Politicians need to tell it as it is. There is a cultural failure in England at least. Best practice should not be found by Ofsted ranking of schools, it should be found by looking at why two groups are so much better on average. England can improve educationally through English and Mathematics at GCSE, and learning from the two communities that have already achieved.

      • Martin in Cardiff
        Posted August 20, 2020 at 6:39 am | Permalink

        Well, yes, and good luck.

        In parts of West Yorkshire, children from Yorkshire families long-rooted locally quite often have to be taught English As A Foreign Language, in order to make them educable at all.

        • Caterpillar
          Posted August 20, 2020 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

          If you don’t tackle what the problem is, you don’t solve it. Politicians need to bring focus on the root issue and work out how to solve it.

          (Some of the two groups that are outperforming do not have English as their only home language)

          • Martin in Cardiff
            Posted August 21, 2020 at 6:31 am | Permalink

            But do you think for one moment that the British Establishment – the Tories – want a population empowered by genuine education as you describe?

            That is, able to discern and to understand matters with a material bearing upon them, and to distinguish those from the emotive, tribally symbolic, but merely emblematic ones, presently used to manipulate them?

        • Fred H
          Posted August 21, 2020 at 7:31 am | Permalink

          a bit like parts of Cardiff – take them out of the local area and you need a translator!

  40. Ignoramus
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Unusually I find myself agreeing with every contributor today Our government is in a mess about so many things that I do not know a single previous Conservative voter who still has respect for it. Covid 19 policy is like a yacht tacking every five minutes, no minister ever tells the public the truth about the threat or mentions the massive NHS waiting list and unnecessary deaths, despite promises illegal migrants pour in and are housed in hotels and given pocket money, the lack of planning and foresight about schools and universities is unbelievable. It is a complete shambles. The ERM crisis of the 1990s did for Major and the Conservatives several years later.

    What is happening now is far worse and even the Daily Telegraph appears to agree. The next election may apear to be in 2024 but don’t bet on it.

  41. a-tracy
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    This is all very embarrassing for Boris, isn’t it.

    “Following David Cameron’s resignation, Williamson “privately vowed” to stop the front-runner Boris Johnson from becoming Conservative Party leader. He assessed Theresa May to be the likeliest candidate to defeat Johnson, offered his help to her, and was invited to be her parliamentary campaign manager. When May became prime minister, Williamson was appointed Chief Whip”
    His Wiki entry says
    “all exams having been cancelled in 2020, were based on Ofqual-modulated teacher assessments rather than on modulated exam results.[60][61] About 39% of results were below the teacher assessment (compared to 79% in 2019) – Ofqual accused some teachers of submitting “implausibly high” predictions.[62] Ofqual rescinded the advice it had given on how the appeals system would operate.”

  42. Phil_Richmond
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    This is all fine and good but what are you doing about the illegal migrant invasion? Why are WE THE PEOPLE having to fund these people putting them up in 4* hotels????

  43. Ian
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Given this Government is so weak, I see a total , give The EU what ever they wont , this in spite of the fact that we have all the cards and more than anyone could wont .
    The lies this bunch have told, non more so than the PM.
    It is exactly the same Remainers. In this Parliament as the last one, given they have already been in power for ten years, pure treachery from start to finish.

    I do not include our Host , bless him he has more common sense and decency than all the rest, I am sure we all agree with that

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

      +1 he has honour too. A very rare commodity, especially amongst the professional politicians.

  44. Tabulazero
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    With all due respect,

    Gavin Williamson was asked to resign from his position as Defence Secretary because he was found to have willingly leaked confidential National Security Council information.

    And now, the perfectly foreseeable and avoidable exam fiasco.

    Couldn’t your letter simply invite him to pursue a fruitful career on the back bench for everyone’s sake ?

    • NickC
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      Tabulazero, Yet you didn’t foresee it. We lockdown sceptics did warn you there would consequences from lockdown – neglect of people with other diseases, education trashed at the hands of sub-marxist teacher unions, the economy devastated and in chaos. But you wouldn’t listen.

      • Tabulazero
        Posted August 20, 2020 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

        NickC: you will notice that the only country in Western Europe with an exam fiasco of this scale is the UK?

        What did the Germans do that the Brits could not ?

        Gavin Williamson was promoted to his job not because he was particularly clever or good at his job (he got fired from the last one) but simply because he supported Brexit.

        The fact that he has not yet resigned tells you that the current government want to immunize the public against ministerial incompetence.

        Are you proud of all the cock-ups this government has had to face ?

  45. Andy
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I see a teenage boy has been found dead on a beach.

    Everyone is calling him a ‘migrant’.

    I call him a person.

    A 16 year old.


    On a beach.

    What have we become?

    • Fred H
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      outraged Andy – – crocodile tears. Taking advantage of this tragedy!
      Where was the breast beating anguish when the 2 Asian lads drowned off our coast?

    • Martyn G
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      Sadly, a 16 year old lies dead. On a beach. In France. And your point re what have ‘we’ in the UK become, is what?

    • Edward2
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

      Blame the criminal gangsters that expoited him.

      • margaret howard
        Posted August 20, 2020 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        Our very own Gavin Williamson – as usual blame everybody else.

        Ever heard of: “The buck stops here?”

        • Edward2
          Posted August 20, 2020 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

          Well he was in France.
          Blame France then.

        • a-tracy
          Posted August 26, 2020 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          The buck should have stopped with France and Macron margaret, they refused the 28-year-old asylum, they should facilitated his return home not onward to the UK. They were paid good money to police our border on their coast – whilst in transition, our politicians should return them to France as we can, if we don’t then this conservative government will have failed its election platform/manifesto pledge.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

      He put himself there. He miscalculated.

    • Anonymous
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

      We put refugees up in hotels. The French leave them in muddy forests.

      What have THEY become and why aren’t there boats going from the UK to the EU ?

      • Anonymous
        Posted August 20, 2020 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        Why are so many people so desperate to leave the EU ?

    • Fedupsoutherner
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 1:18 am | Permalink

      Andy while it is tragic that a boy has been found dead let’s not forget that he made the journey of his own free will and unless we actually scour the seas looking for these migrants this kind of thing is inevitable. The sooner a stop is put to this activity and the traffickers are put out of business then I am sure this will happen again. My concern is for Kent council who simply don’t have enough money to cope with all of this and I fear for vulnerable British youngsters who may now fall through the safety net.

    • NickC
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      Andy, We should immediately return all illegal migrant chancers, preferably at sea. It also should be compulsory for any legal migrant in the UK to contribute to the normal taxes for 15 years, and be taxed extra for a capital contribution to the infrastructure he uses, before any social benefits – NHS, pension, etc. That way migrants, including those crossing the channel, would be deterred.

  46. Iain Gill
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    If there is a shortage of places for locals at uni just reduce the number of foreign students we allow in, it really is that simple.

  47. Al
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I see today in the Press Matt Hancock is saying there is no reason for people not to return to the office. I believe the large savings many employers have discovered, along with confirming which employees are reliable working from home, makes a very good business case.

    As long as the work gets done, many employers are not fussy. The businesses that will lose out are those that rely on huge offices in the city centres – and London is suffering the worst – but I have to say I’ve never seen our local high street so busy.

  48. miami.mode
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    On the subject of “education”, a variation of the banking phrase “words and figures differ”.

    In the introduction to a news programme the BBC said that a young man had unfortunately lost his life in an endeavour to cross the English Channel and his body was washed up onto a French beach, whilst at the same time showing a short film clip of a UK Border Force boat arriving at a port as though it was something to do with them. Educating the masses!

    • miami.mode
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

      BBC News at Ten – they’ve changed it and now show a deserted stretch of (presumably) French beach.

  49. Helen Smith
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Employers will just regrade every applicant who sends them a CV. The kids can kid themselves they are all triple A* but we know better.

  50. beresford
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    There are calls for Priti Patel to resign because a migrant put to sea on the French coast in a stolen child’s dinghy and drowned, yet several British people, including two Asian lads, drowned around our coast due to misadventure recently and it wasn’t important enough to make the TV news. We are told this illustrates that the evil smugglers must be stopped when the migrant died because he didn’t use the smugglers. The usual suspects are claiming that this proves the need for UK asylum claims to be heard in France, but when the majority of such claims are rejected as bogus the claimant will simply find a smuggler. We need to reduce the ‘pull’ factor and that is entirely within the gift of our politicians.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted August 19, 2020 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

      We need to introduce a ‘push’ factor. That is in the hands of the British people.

  51. Mike Wilson
    Posted August 19, 2020 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    When I was in the 6th form, 50 years ago, doing A levels in Maths, Physics and Chemistry, we had completed the syllabus by Easter in the lower 6th – year 12 these days. The year between then and the exams was basically a jolly- a complete waste of a year. So, students missing out on a few months of year 13 should not be significant . They should have taken their exams.

    Likewise, university courses should be completed in 2 years.

  52. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 1:05 am | Permalink

    There was grade inflation caused by generous teacher marking and it was right to correct grades using an algorithm. However, the wrong algorithm was used. An algorithm that downgrades a grade B to a grade E, while at the same time boosting some grades cannot be right. What would have been better is the following:

    Take all the results – across all subjects – for a particular school and modify the results to eliminate grade inflation compared to the previous year. No grade should be reduced by more than level – e.g. A* to A is OK, as are A to B, B to C and C to D. No child should have more than one grade reduced. Not difficult, surely.

  53. Ian
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    I see no progress in getIng rid of all illegal migrants , do we indeed have a Government any more ?
    Or are they just listening to there masters in the All Mighty EU.
    We all know the answer to that.
    Most of you must have noticed the lack of Tony Blair , clearly he sees every thing going his way again and has nothing to worry about anymore, everyone is happy now Except the sovereign Voters ?

  54. David Williams
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    My son is in year 12 and is facing the prospect of fewer university places in 2021 because of this year’s A-level fiasco.

    I think that the best solution would be for the popular universities to offer more places this year and next, and overcome the capacity issue by doing some tuition on-line.

  55. Frances Truscott
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Why are there not enough places for able students? A young person whose entire school career has been high achieving should be able enough to study what they choose.
    Do not hurt young people during Covid even more than a lifetime of testing already does.

    • Edward2
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

      There are lots of available places on degree courses.
      Especially as overseas student numbers are well down.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

  • John’s Books

  • Email Alerts

    You can sign up to receive John's blog posts by e-mail by entering your e-mail address in the box below.

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    The e-mail service is powered by Google's FeedBurner service. Your information is not shared.

  • Map of Visitors

    Locations of visitors to this page