Silence of the Mann

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Many young people in Cornwall have been bitterly disappointed to find their A-level results unfairly downgraded amid the ongoing exam shambles. Scott Mann MP, parliamentary secretary to education minister Gavin Williamson, has been strangely silent on their plight.

Sarah Johnson, the mother of a boy studying at Truro College who had been hoping to go to Cambridge, told Radio Cornwall: “He’s one of those individuals who have been failed by this system. He was predicted by his teachers – who we were told know him best, which of course they do – to get A*, A*, A. All of his results were downgraded and as a result he has lost his dream place at Cambridge.”

Oliver Weblake, a student at Helston Community College, had been given a conditional place at Trinity College Oxford to study engineering. On Thursday last week he was devastated to discover that his A* in Physics – which he had achieved in his mocks and which was a condition for taking up the place – had been downgraded to an A. He has been told that he has a right to appeal, but it’s still far from clear how the appeals process works. Meanwhile, Trinity College has informed him that even if his appeal were successful, he would not be able to take up the place until next year.

A female student, Evie, who had been hoping to take up a place at Bristol University, also found that the algorithm had downgraded her predicted results. She told Radio Cornwall: “I was absolutely heartbroken when I opened my results today. I was really upset because I had absolutely no idea that they’d lower it down that low… My teacher said he was just as bewildered as I was.”

As it happens, Scott Mann, the Conservative MP for North Cornwall, is parliamentary secretary to Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education and the minister ultimately responsible for the fiasco and the government’s wholly inadequate response to the way that talented students have had their life chances knocked back by a defective algorithm.

So what has Scott Mann had to say to the young people of Cornwall who have been treated in this way by his government?

Answer: absolutely nothing. He has made no public comment on the situation since the scale of the disaster became clear last week. Given Mann’s track record as an MP, and the fact that he has no known expertise in education, this is perhaps not altogether surprising.

Mann has previously distinguished himself principally by his enthusiasm for a hard Brexit and his cavalier approach to parliamentary and electoral expenses. He was one of a number of Conservative MPs investigated by police following the 2015 general election for allegedly spending more than the legal limit on campaign expenses. The Crown Prosecution Service found evidence of inaccurate spending returns, but concluded that this it did not “meet the test” for further action.

Mann has also come under criticism for employing his partner as a part-time constituency secretary on a salary of up to £30,000. This practice has now been made illegal in order to prevent nepotism, but Mann began employing her before the law was changed and the restriction is not retrospective – and he apparently sees no reason not to continue paying her from the public purse.

Unfortunately, most students who have been unfairly downgraded will not have access to salaries paid by the taxpayer courtesy of positions held by family members.

Mann’s other main claim to fame is that he had to be rescued from drowning by fellow Conservative MP Johnny Mercer in 2016 after attempting to swim to shore while they were on a boat trip together, despite being unable to swim. Mann later explained that he had done this because he was “afraid to own up to something that [he] considered an embarrassment”.

Perhaps Mann feels equally “embarrassed” to own up to the Department for Education’s appalling treatment of talented young people in Cornwall who have worked hard to achieve the A-level results they needed for their future, only to find these cruelly denied to them.

They are owed not just an explanation but an apology – and Scott Mann, along with his boss Gavin Williamson, needs to tell them just what he proposes to do to rectify the situation.