DfE perm sec Jonathan Slater sacked over A-Level row

Slater is second senior official to stand down after the qualifications fiasco, while education secretary Gavin Williamson stays on
Photo: Baldo Sciacca for CSW

Jonathan Slater, permanent secretary at the Department for Education, has been sacked following the row over the use of a controversial algorithm to award A-Levels and other qualifications.

DfE confirmed this afternoon that Slater will step down in six days' time, ahead of the end of his tenure next spring, at the request of the prime minister, Boris Johnson.

Susan Acland-Hood, the former chief executive of HM Courts and Tribunals Service who was brought into DfE as second perm sec last week to help handle the crisis, is taking over as acting perm sec.

The news came the same day as the government dropped its previous advice for school pupils not to wear face masks on their return to school next month.

A government spokesperson said: "The prime minister has concluded that there is a need for fresh official leadership at the Department for Education.

"Jonathan Slater has therefore agreed that he will stand down on 1 September, in advance of the end of his tenure in Spring 2021."

A permanent successor will be appointed "in the coming weeks", DfE said.

Acland-Hood joined DfE in the temporary role last Friday “to ensure that the government is able to respond fully to exam results, whilst also ensuring the return of schools in September”, the department said in an announcement.

DfE's statement today added: "The cabinet secretary would like to put on record his thanks to Jonathan for 35 years of public service, culminating in over four years as permanent secretary of the Department for Education."

Slater's departure, which was first reported by the Financial Times, comes after qualifications regulator Ofqual's chief executive Sally Collier announced she was standing down yesterday.

Ofqual said Collier believed the next stage of the grades awarding process would be “better overseen by new leadership”. The announcement came after the outcry over the algorithm's use led to a government U-turn allowing students to use teachers' predicted grades rather than their algorithm-awarded results if the former are higher.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson, who last week pointedly refused to voice support for Ofqual, is expected to stay in his cabinet position until at least next year,  when a reshuffle is expected.

Responding to the announcement of Slater's departure, Garry Graham, Prospect deputy general secretary, said: "It used to be ‘advisors advise, ministers decide’.. now it seems we need to add 'and civil servants take the blame'".

FDA general secretary Dave Penman said that “if it wasn’t clear before, then it certainly is now – this administration will throw civil service leaders under bus without a moment’s hesitation to shield ministers from any kind of accountability."

He added: "Those who have dedicated their lives to public service are being discarded without hesitation to keep scrutiny from the government’s door.

“Whilst the origins of the exams fiasco may be complex, the solutions for this government are simple: scapegoating civil servants. Ministerial accountability is dead and the message to civil servants is that they are expendable the moment life gets tough for a minister

“After this government’s continuous anonymous briefings to the press, trust between ministers and civil servants is already at an all-time low and this will only damage it further. No private sector company would treat their leaders this way and still expect to succeed. At a time when the country needs the civil service like never before, the government is happy to tarnish its reputation and throw away years of experience and expertise.”

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