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Covid exams U-turn ‘most awful governing ever’

The chaotic U-turn on Covid GCSE and A-level results was the “most awful governing I think I’ve ever seen” and “lots of people should lose their heads”, the head of the civil service said at the time.

Simon Case, the government’s most senior civil servant since September 2020, was appearing at the Covid inquiry today.

Hugo Keith, lead counsel to the Covid inquiry, revealed how in August 2020, Case’s messages described the U-turn on exams results “as being the most awful governing I think I’ve ever seen” and “lots of people should lose their heads”.

After exams were cancelled, schools were asked to provide centre-assessment grades and a rank order of pupils within each grade. This was then standardised by exam boards using a computer algorithm.

But after an outcry when 40 per cent of results were downgraded at A-level, government was forced to U-turn and instead award the grades decided by schools.

Case, who was permanent secretary to prime minister Boris Johnson at the time, told the inquiry said it was “very frustrating” as the “same thing had happened in Scotland just before”.

He said: “Again some of us had asked questions about ‘are we are ok?’ I think it’s two or three weeks before that the Scottish exam results come out and again said ‘are we on top of this? Is this going to be ok?’ Then exactly the same thing happened in England, it was frustrating.”

Last year, Sir Gavin Williamson told the inquiry in his witness statement how shutting schools to most pupils in January 2021 was a “panic decision, made without having children’s interests front and centre”.

The inquiry has also heard claims that Williamson was opposed to introducing face masks in schools because he was in “no surrender mode” and “didn’t want to give an inch” to unions.

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