After exams U-turn, attention is now likely to focus on education secretary’s future

This is a U-turn long in the making but short in the offing.

As recently as Saturday night, government sources were insisting that, without standardisation, they would be fighting accusations of rampant grade inflation and worthless A-levels.

Ultimately though, the alternative was worse.

A barrage of stories about talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds marked down on the basis of historical difficulties in their schools.

Inequalities exacerbated by an algorithm.

Less levelling up, more dragging down.

A toxic legacy for a prime minister who insists he’s determined to expand opportunity.

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Any chance of riding out the crisis was made impossible by a weekend of chaos over the appeals system that infuriated Conservative MPs.

Worry too that the burden of submitting appeals could disrupt schools restarting again next month.

But while this U-turn fixes one political problem for the government, it creates many more practical ones for higher education.

Ofqual apology for grading system which has now been abandoned
Ofqual apologises after exam grades U-turn

For the last four days, universities have been allocating hundreds of thousands of places based on standardised grades.

Students unable to get into their preferred choice have been accepting alternatives via the clearing service.

Will they now be able to swap back to their initial pick? Will the cap on students numbers stay in place? And if so, will some universities see a damaging exodus from their courses?

What’s more, falling back on Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs) doesn’t eliminate unfairness from the system.

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Different schools will have graded their students using different methods.

Some may have scored harshly to account for the algorithm.

Others will have been more optimistic.

But the calculation is that shifting accountability for that unfairness to teachers rather ministers is an easier political sell.

Wales and Northern Ireland have made similar screeching U-turns today.

But given the chaos in Westminster over the past four days, attention will likely focus on the Education Secretary for England Gavin Williamson.

Questions about why it has taken four days to act? And why – given the fiasco in Scotland – he didn’t see this political juggernaut coming sooner?

Students across the UK may feel more comfortable with their career prospects this evening.

Gavin Williamson probably doesn’t.

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