Behind the scenes

Gavin Williamson ‘wetting himself’ about getting sack amid A levels row

Boris Johnson reportedly lining up replacement for beleaguered education minister

Boris Johnson may expel Gavin Williamson from his cabinet in the next reshuffle following a second year of anger and confusion over A-level results, insiders claim.

According to The Times, sources say the prime minister is planning to replace the beleaguered education secretary with “rising star in the Tory party” Kemi Badenoch, ​​a treasury and equalities minister who is popular among Conservatives for her attacks on “woke campaigners”.

By contrast, many Tory politicians and aides are reportedly “dissatisfied with Williamson’s performance after a number of missteps” during the Covid-19 pandemic. And following the newly erupted row over the distribution of A-level grades, an unnamed MP told the newspaper that Williamson “is wetting himself about getting the sack”.

Grade gap fury

Williamson is in the firing line once again after students yesterday received A-level results based on teacher assessments after exams were cancelled for a second consecutive year owing to Covid.  

A “furious row erupted” over “the gap between private and state pupils” grades, says the Daily Mail, with the discrepancy in results reaching “its widest in the recent era”.

Amid widespread allegations of grade inflation, “an astonishing 70% of A-levels entries by fee-paying pupils were graded at A or A*, compared with 42% of entries at state academies, 39% at comprehensives and 35% at sixth-form colleges”, the paper reports.

The i news site says the government is already mulling an overhaul of exams, with ministers voicing fears that “it will be impossible for universities to distinguish between candidates”.

The plan is to “tackle grade inflation over a period of years rather than solve it rapidly”, in order to avoid a “sudden shock to the system”, the site continues. Suggestions include “looking at reducing the proportion of students allowed the top grades gradually from year to year until the pre-pandemic 2019 baseline is restored”, or “switching to a numerical grading system” in an effort to bring down the number of students achieving top marks.

In detention

Williamson has long been regarded as a close ally of Johnson, having run his leadership campaign in 2019. Johnson brought him back into the cabinet after Williamson was sacked from his role as defence minister by then-PM Theresa May over the leaking of information about Chinese firm Huawei’s potential involvement in the British 5G network.

But with the axe now hovering over Williamson again, an MP told The Times that the embattled minister has been “pitching himself as a potential leader of the Commons” - a junior cabinet position currently held by Jacob Rees-Mogg - in “an attempt to stay in the prime minister’s top team”.

According to the paper, Williamson may face a stumbling block in the form of Douglas Smith, “a Conservative fixer for three decades who has been brought into Johnson’s No. 10 team”. Smith - who is married to Downing Street policy director Munira Mirza - is reportedly “pushing for Badenoch” to get the education role in the next cabinet reshuffle.

Badenoch is known for her work on what No. 10 insiders have termed “woke” issues. But she also made headlines earlier this year following her “unfortunate public meltdown at a reporter”, says Politico London Playbook’s Alex Wickham, who argues that her suggested next role “is hardly going to be popular” with “Westminster Twitter”.

In a series of tweeted posts in January, Badenoch accused then HuffPost journalist Nadine White of “creepy and bizarre” behaviour in questioning why the junior minister had not appeared in a Covid vaccines video aimed at encouraging ethnic minority groups to get the jab.

Downing Street spokesperson Allegra Stratton defended Badenoch at the time, telling the Westminster press pack that she had been “civil” to the reporter and that she had “grounds” for her comments on social media. 

With Badenoch now reportedly lined up to join the cabinet in a reshuffle that Politico’s Wickham says could take place “early next year”,  Williamson may only have “a little while longer” in his job as “the face of the education mess”.

But on the other hand, Wickham adds, given that “Badenoch’s main claim to fame” is her Twitter tirade, the rumours surrounding her next appointment could trigger “another culture war slanging match that suddenly makes it much harder for Johnson” to put her “in charge of the nation’s schools”.

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