‘Another fine mess’: what the papers say about the A-level U-turn

Now that the algorithm has finally been dropped, the blame game begins, as well as the search for university places

  • Gavin Williamson seeks to blame Ofqual for exams debacle

First published on Mon 17 Aug 2020 22.57 EDT

Climbdowns, U-turns and calls for Gavin Williamson to resign resounded across Tuesday’s front pages following the education secretary’s apology for the exams algorithm fiasco that has marred the prospects of hundreds of thousands of pupils and unleashed a wave of anger in the direction of the government.

The Daily Mail portrays Boris Johnson and Williamson as a bumbling cartoon Laurel and Hardy above the headline: “Another fine mess.” It asks why the minister still has a job and urges the PM to “get a grip”.

The Guardian captures a sense of celebration, showing students’ joy outside the Department for Education in its main picture. “Government forced into humiliating exams U-turn” is the headline and the story notes the minister’s efforts to blame regulator Ofqual for the problem.

The Telegraph also focuses on the search for culpability. Next to a large picture of Williamson is the headline: “Williamson shifts blame on to exam watchdog after grades climbdown.” It also carries a mention of an opinion piece by William Hague, who says the fiasco threatened to become “another poll tax moment for the Tories”.

The Mirror puts the blame on Johnson, with the headline: “This is no way to run a country.” It describes the exams U-turn as “the latest in a list of massive errors during pandemic”. It adds a third picture showing a protester holding a “sack Gavin” sign.

The traditionally loyal Express finds a third way, describing the U-turn on the no-U-turn policy as a “victory for common sense in exams fiasco”. It portrays Johnson as taking control by telling Williamson to scrap the disastrous algorithm policy.

The Times looks ahead to the next step for some A-level students: “Scramble for university places after exam U-turn”. Quentin Letts is particularly scathing in his sketch of Williamson and his Whitehall experts, saying: “This had been a day to remember, a day when our political class showed its world-beating ineptitude.”

The FT says “A-level and GCSE results restored after latest government U-turn”, noting in bullet points Williamson’s apology, and that the rest of the UK is following Scotland’s lead.

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