Ofqual head Sally Collier resigns over exams fiasco

Exams regulator chief, who oversaw development of flawed algorithm, steps down

The head of England’s exam regulator, Sally Collier, has resigned over the exams fiasco that has engulfed schools and universities.

News of her departure came hours after the education select committee announced she had been called to give evidence to MPs on the exams debacle at a hearing next Wednesday. An education source said: “She knew she’d reached the end of the line.”

Collier, the chief regulator and Ofqual chief executive, oversaw the development of the flawed exams algorithm that was scrapped after it downgraded nearly 40% of A-level results. The algorithm was created after ministers insisted on avoiding grade inflation.

Collier had been conspicuous by her absence since the U-turn on results last week, with Ofqual’s chair, Roger Taylor, issuing a public apology instead.

Ofqual said she would be replaced temporarily by her predecessor, Dame Glenys Stacey, with additional support from the Ofsted chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, who previously chaired Ofqual. Taylor remains in his role.

The chair of the education select committee, Robert Halfon, said Collier should still give evidence to his inquiry. “Just a few days ago, both Sally Collier and Roger Taylor confirmed they would come to the committee.

“Taylor has confirmed to me today he will still attend but I hope very much Sally Collier will still attend because she was in charge at the time and we can find out what went wrong,” he told the Guardian. “The public, parents and pupils need to know the truth of what happened and why.”

The Guardian understands Ofqual was planning to send Stacey along with Taylor.

Collier’s resignation comes days after the publication of millions of GCSE results and not long after the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, insisted Ofqual had his “full confidence”. He had previously refused to back Collier but later admitted Ofqual was responsible for the climbdown for which he originally took credit.

The government was forced to apologise for the fiasco that resulted in disadvantaged students being worst hit by downgrades, while private school pupils’ results were boosted under the algorithm. University admissions were thrown into chaos and public confidence in the exams system plummeted.

A statement from Ofqual said the board had agreed to accept temporary support from the schools regulator, Ofsted, to help resolve outstanding issues with this summer’s GCSE, A-level and vocational qualifications, including appeals and autumn exams, as well as preparations for next year’s exam season.

“The chief regulator, Sally Collier, has decided that the next stage of the awarding process would be better overseen by new leadership,” the statement said.

“The Ofqual board supports Sally in this decision, and thanks her for her leadership and service over the past four years, which has included overseeing the successful introduction of an entirely new set of GCSEs and A-levels, and a new grading system.”

Stacey will be the acting chief regulator until December, with support from a new committee to be chaired by Spielman.

The committee will oversee the work of Ofqual until the end of the year. Additional Ofsted staff may be brought in during the autumn to support Ofqual’s work. It is understood Ofsted was only informed of developments on Tuesday.

The statement concluded: “Taken together these arrangements will ensure that Ofqual has the extra capacity, support and oversight it needs both to tackle the remaining issues from this year’s awarding process and to ensure that next year’s arrangements command public confidence.”

Insiders said the Ofqual board was now “a lame duck” and would be sidelined. Powers will be delegated to Spielman’s committee and once the immediate crisis is over a new board will be appointed with some suggesting Ofsted and Ofqual could even be merged.

“There are all sorts of questions around governance. What questions were the board asking?” said one source. Collier weakened her position by failing to front Ofqual’s response to the crisis, but is said to have been keen to put her case to the education select committee. “I think she would be able to demonstrate this is not all of Ofqual’s making,” one source said.

Williamson issued a statement thanking Collier and welcoming the new governance arrangements involving Ofsted. “This will make sure Ofqual can fully focus on the important functions it must deliver as the independent regulator for qualifications, examinations and assessments in England,” he said. “Moving forward, my department will continue to work closely with Ofqual’s leadership to deliver fair results and exams for young people.”

Collier earned a £200,000 salary and led Ofqual for four years, having worked previously in procurement for the civil service as the chief executive of Crown Commercial Service, but faced criticism for her lack of background in education.

“Someone had to go, but I really feel for her,” said one education insider. “She was given an impossible job. Gavin Williamson told her to limit grade inflation and give candidates the grades they deserved. This is a mutually incompatible direction. Of course the one person who should resign is clinging on for dear life, on his last legs, expiring slowly.”

Collier’s departure will do little to divert attention from the fiasco. Taylor is engaged in a public row with the Royal Statistical Society, which raised concerns about the algorithm.

The Guardian revealed last week that Taylor threatened to quit unless Williamson publicly backed the exams regulator, and that Spielman was being lined up to shore up the body.


Sally Weale and Jessica Elgot

The GuardianTramp

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