It’s a bit of a stretch, but it is not entirely outside the realms of possibility. Cummings’ background is, of course, in education policy and it is in that area that some of his strongest opinions can be found.
He sees A levels as “largely useless for distinguishing between candidates” and notes that they do not test the skills that selective universities are interested in, lamenting the rise in cryptic university interview questions and course specific entrance exams that – he argues – makes the admissions process to selective providers less coherent.
In the infamous essay on “an Odyssean Education” he argues that political control has corrupted university admissions policy and laments the decline in university standard that he links to the problems he sees with A levels.
It’s not hard to derive from this a background for Cummings’ widely rumoured diastase for an administration process that would make A level results an even more central part of university admissions. A plan that would ensure that universities can only make an offer once exam results are known would undermine university autonomy, while denying them much of the information he would argue that they need.
Over the last 12 months if DfE was a school it would be in some danger of being forced to convert to an academy, so you couldn’t imagine much love being lost between Cummings and Williamson’s team in terms of competence. Many parts of the HE sector have made an uneasy common cause with Cummings over autonomy and the need to increase and deregulate research funding – against a DfE that is often criticised as seeing universities as “big schools”.
So, would the outgoing Prime Minister’s Chief Advisor, knowing that his position was in peril at number 10 anyway choose the date and time to do maximum possible damage to the PQA policy?
For your average SpAD, yes, that would have been a stretch. People don’t do principled flounces over issues like this. But Dom is not your average SpAD, his passions – civil service reform, research funding, superforecasting – are not those of an average SpAD. If you are advising government you quickly learn the delight of watching your pet ideas discarded and your red lines crossed on a daily basis. Dom’s probably experienced less of this, with his experience of starting fights and causing trouble, so maybe this was a betrayal too far.
Anyway, his resignation will dominate the weekend papers at the expense of Williamson’s announcement – this may be a coincidence but for Cummings it would be a happy one.