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Gavin Williamson refused to personally express ‘confidence’ in Sally Collier, the head of Ofqual (PA)


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The Department for Education has given its full backing to Ofqual over the A-level and GCSE grading controversy after Gavin Williamson repeatedly refused to do so.

The Secretary of State appears to have bowed to pressure and supported England’s exams regulator after criticism he was shifting the blame for the results fiasco onto the quango.

On Tuesday the Cabinet minister refused to personally express “confidence” in Sally Collier, the head of Ofqual, simply saying she had worked hard in her position.

He said Ofqual “didn’t deliver the system that we had been reassured… would be in place” after the algorithm used to deliver moderated grades to pupils had to be scrapped in a humiliating U-turn.

And asked on multiple occasions during a media round if he backed her to stay in post, Mr Williamson would only say: “Well we’ve worked with Ofqual and at every stage I know that Ofqual have done absolutely everything they can do to ensure that they have fairness within the system and continue to work with Ofqual, and the head of Ofqual, to ensure that we deliver youngsters with grades they deserve.”

But he was accused of “scapegoating” officials after it was reported Jonathan Slater, the permanent secretary at the Department for Education, could face the sack.

In response, the Department for Education published a statement on Wednesday morning saying: “As the Government has made clear, we have full confidence in Ofqual and its leadership in their role as independent regulator and we continue to work closely with Ofqual to deliver fair results for our young people at this unprecedented time.

“The decision they took to move from moderated grades to centre assessed grades was one that we agreed with.

“Our focus remains on working with Ofqual to ensure students receive their final GCSE, AS level and A-level results this week so that they can move on to the next stage of their lives.”

Earlier Health Secretary Matt Hancock said sacking Mr Williamson would only “distract” from the task of re-opening all schools next month.

He told Sky News: “These are unprecedented circumstances and I think everybody is working their hardest and trying to do their best in very difficult circumstances and I know that is true of Gavin Williamson as it is of all members of the government.

“The big focus is on getting schools back and open at the start of next month, an incredibly important task. I don’t think we should be distracted from that task now. We need to absolutely focus on it.”

Mr Williamson is currently favourite with the bookmakers to be the next person to leave the Cabinet, but The Telegraph reports Boris Johnson will not hold a full reshuffle this autumn and that he may stay in post until the new year.

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Nagorno-Karabakh: The boy who swapped his piano for a gun

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The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is over, but some families are still waiting for news of their missing relatives.

Bodies are still being counted and identified, and there is no clear information on what has happened to the missing.

Twenty-two-year-old Soghomon was fighting on the Armenian frontline against Azerbaijan. The last time his family heard from him was 1 October.

He was a soldier, but also an artist and a talented piano player.

His father and sister say they can’t give up hope that he will return.

Video by: Sofia Bettiza, Gabriel Chaim and Aren Melikyan

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Afghan car bomb kills at least 40 soldiers

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An attacker detonated an explosive packed vehicle in front of a security base in the Deh Yak district of the province.

According to a statement from the Afghan Ministry of Defense, the attacker was confronted by security forces as he tried to enter the base. No group has claimed responsibility yet.

The blast targeted a compound of the public protection force, a wing of the Afghan security forces, local officials told Reuters. It damaged civilian residences around the compound, and there could be more casualties from there, they said.

Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian confirmed that there had been a car bomb blast but did not provide further information on the target or possible casualties.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, when contacted by Reuters, did not confirm or deny responsibility.

Afghanistan has seen a spate of car bombings over the last few months, despite peace talks being under way between negotiation teams of the insurgent Taliban and the government in the Qatari capital of Doha.

Violence in the country, at war for two decades, remains unacceptably high, foreign governments and institutions say, calling for an immediate ceasefire between the Afghan government and Taliban.
Afghan President orders resumption of offensive operations against the Taliban in blow to Trump's deal

Another bombing on Sunday, in the eastern province of Zabul, targeting a top provincial official, killed at least one person and injured 23, said Gul Islam Syaal, the spokesman for the province’s governor.

Haji Ata Jan Haqbayan, head of the provincial council of Zabul, suffered minor injuries in the attack on his convoy.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack on Haqbayan, an outspoken critic of the Taliban.

The Trump administration’s peace deal with the Taliban was dealt a blow in May as the Afghan government announced it was resuming offensive operations against the insurgent group following a spate of deadly terrorist attacks.

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Incoming GOP congresswoman to take aim at AOC with conservative ‘squad’

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Malliotakis, who frequently attacked Ocasio-Cortez during her campaign against Democratic Rep. Max Rose, took aim again at her New York counterpart when asked about the future of the Republican Party.

“I think one of the reasons why we were so motivated to run is seeing the Democratic women being elected in 2018 that don’t necessarily reflect our values, particularly those who are self-described socialists,” Malliotakis said. “I think there’s just a stark contrast between what we’re offering and what people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are offering. And that’s something that needs to be debated in Washington.”

House Republicans more than doubled the number of women in their conference in November, bringing the number to at least 28 from 13. Democrats, who added a record number of women to their ranks during the 2018 election, have at least 89.

A number of House races still remain uncalled, including New York Republican Claudia Tenney’s challenge against Rep. Anthony Brindisi; Tenney’s lead has narrowed significantly to just 13 votes as of Friday.

Malliotakis, who will be the only Republican to represent New York City in Congress, credited House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Liz Cheney for their efforts in recruiting “qualified women who have something to share with the American people” for the gains.

“What we stand for are freedom, liberty. We love this nation. We want to see it prevail. We want to see it remain the land of opportunity, what has, in essence, attracted millions of immigrants from around the world, to pursue that American dream,” Malliontakis said. “Somebody like me, daughter of a Cuban refuge, I want to be there to be a part of the discussion, debate and provide a counterview.”

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