Top DfE civil servant to step down after English exams fiasco

Prime minister decides on ‘need for fresh official leadership’ after A-levels U-turn

August 26, 2020
Whitehall sign
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The most senior civil servant in the Department for Education is to step down following England’s A-levels fiasco.

Jonathan Slater, permanent secretary at the DfE since 2016, agreed that he would step down on 1 September after the prime minister “concluded that there is a need for fresh official leadership at the Department for Education”, a statement said.

His departure follows the resignation of Sally Collier, chief executive of exams regulator Ofqual, after the use of an algorithm to standardise A-level grades led to more than a quarter of a million results being downgraded.

The attempt at moderation was abandoned after a huge backlash, with students being given grades estimated by their teachers instead, in a move that created chaos in university admissions.

But despite heavy criticism, education secretary Gavin Williamson remains in a job, for now at least.

Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, said that under Boris Johnson’s government civil servants “have time and time again taken the fall for the incompetence and failures of ministers”.

“Leadership requires a sense of responsibility and a willingness to be held accountable, qualities this prime minister and his ministers utterly lack,” she said.

The DfE said that Susan Acland-Hood, who was only appointed interim second permanent secretary last week, would become acting permanent secretary. She is chief executive of HM Courts & Tribunals Service.

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