It has been widely claimed on social media that, in reference to A-level results day, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “The danger is that pupils will be overpromoted into jobs that are beyond their competence.” This is not true.
Mr Williamson wrote a piece for The Daily Telegraph on 13 August 2020, which was A-level results day, about the system being used for grading A-levels. The system being used is different this year after the Covid-19 pandemic led to all exams being cancelled. The evening before, 12 August, The Daily Telegraph tweeted a picture of its front page for the next day, which included a news story containing quotes from Mr Williamson’s article.
The story was headlined “Boosting exam grades ‘would harm Generation Covid for life’”. In the quotes, Mr Williamson said that giving results based only on the predicted grades of teachers would mean results were considerably higher this year, which he said would “devalue the results for the class of 2020”.
He added: “But worse than that, it would mean that students this year would lose out twice over, both in their education and their future prospects.”
If the results are devalued, this would suggest that universities or employers might not take high results seriously, rather than pupils being overpromoted.
Daisy Christodoulou, an education specialist, noted on Twitter that shortly after The Daily Telegraph front page was tweeted on 12 August, it was retweeted by financial journalist Philip Coggan with the caption: “The danger is that pupils will be overpromoted into jobs that are beyond their competence, says Gavin Williamson.”
This caption was not written as a direct quote. The next day, Mr Coggan tweeted: “Just to emphasise, as I think most people realised, this was a joke based on the tone of Williamson's remarks.” However, by this point the ‘joke’ had been widely shared as a fact.
Public figures attributed this quote to Mr Williamson, including journalists Piers Morgan, John Crace and Adam Boulton, comedian and actor David Schneider, Labour MP Toby Perkins and Labour peer Lord Andrew Adonis. It was also reported or featured in The Guardian, Huff Post, Indy100 and The Poke.
On Twitter, the Department for Education warned about the “false statement”, writing: “A false statement attributed to the Secretary of State has been widely circulated today regarding the standardisation of A-level grades and students’ future career prospects.
“The Secretary of State said if grades weren’t standardised it “would devalue the results for the class of 2020. But worse than that, it would mean that students this year would lose out twice over, both in their education and their future prospects”.”