Ofqual chair steps down after 'difficult summer'

Roger Taylor hands in his notice, citing A-Level grades row
This summer's A-Level grades row sparked protests. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire/PA Images

Ofqual chair Roger Taylor is stepping down after a “difficult summer”, with the hunt for his replacement set to begin next year. 

Taylor, who has chaired the qualifications regulator since December 2016, handed in his two weeks’ notice this week, citing this summer’s events as the reason for his departure.

The regulator became embroiled in a major row after it used an algorithm to calculate students’ A-Level and GCSE grades after exams were cancelled because of Covid-19. Some students' grades were lower than expected, causing them to lose out on university places and job offers, sparking protests.

Questions have since been raised about the statistical modelling used to calculate the grades, and the level of transparency and scrutiny allowed by independent experts. The Office for Statistics Regulation is reviewing the process behind the modelling.

In September, Taylor, who is also the chair of the government's Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, said it had been a "fundamental mistake" to believe awarding algorithm-calculated grades "would ever be acceptable to the public".

He said doing so had been a decision taken by ministers, and that it was "unlikely that we could ever have delivered this policy successfully".

However, he said Ofqual was responsible for how it implemented the policy, and that the approach it chose had “failed to win public confidence, even in circumstances where it was operating exactly as we had intended it to”.

Announcing his departure this week, Taylor said: “After what has been a very difficult summer, I am leaving the organisation in good shape and in good hands.

“We have put in place measures for young people sitting exams in 2021 which represent the best approach to these difficult times.”

He praised staff at the regulator, calling them “enormously dedicated and professional people who care deeply about the importance of qualifications and their role in supporting the benefits of high-quality education” and congratulated board member Ian Bauckham on his appointment as interim chair.

Bauckham, who is chief executive of the multi-academy Tenax Schools Trust, has sat on Ofqual’s board since spring 2018 and its standards advisory group since 2015.

He is also chair of Oak National Academy, an online learning provider set up in April to support school teaching during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ofqual will hold a recruitment process for Taylor’s replacement next year.

This marks the second major leadership change at the regulator in the space of a few months, after chief executive Sally Collier stepped down over the row.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said Taylor had “shown absolute commitment to ensuring qualifications are of the highest possible standard, while recognising the role they play in opening doors for both young people and adults”.

He said Bauckham’s appointment would “help see a smooth transition for work on exams and assessments in 2021 and beyond”.

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