The day hadn’t got off to the best of starts for Gavin Williamson, with the prime minister phoning to express his full confidence in him. A sure sign he was being lined up for the sack imminently.
“It’s looking as if we’re going to have to do a U-turn over the A-level and GCSE results,” Boris Johnson had said. “Though obviously we won’t be calling it a U-turn. More a centrally assessed A* turn.”
“But we can’t,” Gavin had pleaded. “It was only last Saturday that you and Dominic sent me out to do an interview saying there could be no changes to the results otherwise we’d end up with a whole load of over-promoted students. And we both know from personal experience how disastrous that can be.”
“No choice, I’m afraid,” Boris replied. “We’ve got Keir Starmer, every newspaper and the entire country on our backs, and we wouldn’t want to get a reputation for being totally incompetent at everything we do. The worst that’s happened is that a whole load of working-class kids who probably were never going to vote Tory anyway managed to get out of doing their exams and had a bit of a shitty weekend instead.”
“I think that may be an understatement. Weren’t we supposed to be levelling up the country?”
“Well, I gave you a job, didn’t I?”
“Seriously, Boris. What am I going to say that doesn’t make me look like a hopeless numpty?”
“What do you ever say that doesn’t make you look like a hopeless numpty? That’s why you’re called Private Pike. Just chill out a bit. It’s no big deal. All we’re doing is the total opposite of what we said we were going to do. People respect that kind of behaviour. Besides, it’s worked for you in the past.
“Everyone expects you not to tell the truth. Remember that time when you said you hadn’t leaked confidential meetings of the national security council? No one believed you then, which is why you were sacked. And within months you were back in the cabinet. Keep up this level of incompetence and you’ll be in line for a peerage. Which reminds me, I must do something about Chris Grayling.”
“But … ”
“Just do it. I’m off on my hols. Though it might be hard to tell the difference as I haven’t exactly been overdoing it recently. Good luck.” At which point the line went dead.
Several hours later Gavin found himself at his desk at the Department for Education morosely shuffling papers, still trying to work out the best way to present his U-turn.
How could anyone have expected him to have known that pupils wouldn’t be taking their exams this summer and that it might be an idea to check with Ofqual that its algorithm for allocating grades didn’t unfairly disadvantage those from schools that had underperformed in the past? After all, he had only had five months to get it right.
Gavin fondled the whip on his desk and idly checked his emails. One made his heart sink. It was from the Association of Fireplace Salesmen. They had been doing a routine check on grades awarded in 2007 and found that he had mistakenly been awarded a B instead of a C for the second quarter of the year. Which meant that he now had only come second in the annual awards. So could he please send back his plastic statue? Just how bad could the day get?
Just then his adviser came into his office and gently reminded him that he was booked in to do a brief TV clip at 4pm. But Williamson just couldn’t do it. He’d had enough shame for one day. So he dashed to the bathroom and locked himself in the toilet.
“You can get the bloke from Ofqual to say something,” Gav sobbed. “It was their sodding algorithm that landed us in this mess.”
“I don’t think that will quite do,” the adviser insisted. “I know it’s hard to believe, but you are actually the boss round here and the country needs to hear from you.” Gavin hastily took out his pen, wrote ‘sorry if anyone was upset’ on a piece of bog roll and passed it out from under the toilet door.
After an hour of intensive therapy, Gav was finally ready to do a two-minute clip for the TV cameras. It had been a complete coincidence that students from the poorest backgrounds had been the ones marked down, but when it had come to his attention that the government had failed its Ofsted inspection and had been put into special measures by the entire country, he had decided to do the thing he had said he definitely wouldn’t be doing just 48 hours earlier. And he was a bit sorry. Though mainly for himself.
“You did a great job there,” said Classic Dom. “Don’t worry about a thing. There’s no way Boris is going to sack you over this. Because if he does, then he will have no one to fire but himself. You’ve got at least another month or so in the job so you might as well enjoy it.
Gav started sobbing uncontrollably. All he wanted to do was to book himself a holiday in Spain for two weeks. And hope the quarantine period had been extended to six months by the time he returned.
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