In Depth

Firm with links to Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings handed Ofqual A-level contract

Public First given exam grading communications role without competitive tender

A communications company run by long-term associates of Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings was handed a contract to work on the disastrous A-level results announcement without a competitive tender.

Public First, which is run by James Frayne and Rachel Wolf, has been working with exams regulator Ofqual since June, The Guardian says. Both formerly worked for Gove in the Department for Education (DfE), where Cummings was a senior political advisor.

Wolf co-wrote the Conservative Party’s 2019 election manifesto, while Frayne’s work alongside Cummings “dates back to Eurosceptic campaigning 20 years ago”, the paper adds.

The firm is understood to have been employed “to assist Ofqual with communicating its A-level and GSCE results plan to help secure public confidence in the strategy”. Exact details of the contract have not been disclosed, while Ofqual declined to tell the paper how much public money was spent hiring Public First.

A spokesperson for the firm said that the company was contracted to work on “insight on public opinion for this year’s exam arrangements”, adding that “Public First is currently assisting Ofqual’s small communications team with an unprecedented amount of media interest in a complex policy area”.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson added that Gove and the Cabinet Office had “no involvement in the contract and did not discuss it with Ofqual”.

The disclosure comes as it was revealed that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was warned six weeks ago that the exam grading plan “could lead to hundreds of thousands of students being given the wrong results but decided to push ahead”, The Times reports. 

“A senior source” in the DfE told the paper that Sir Jon Coles, a former director-general in the Whitehall department, “wrote to Mr Williamson early last month to express concerns about the algorithm used by Ofqual”, according to deputy political editor Steven Swinford.

Williamson held a video conference with Coles in mid-July, but “decided to push ahead with the algorithm amid worries about grade inflation and the risk that results could be significantly delayed”, the Times adds.

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