Downing Street has apologised for the “distress” caused by the exams U-turn, as a senior minister refused to deny he offered to resign.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman issued an apology after the chaos faced by A-level, GCSE and BTEC pupils last week.
The prime minister was on holiday in Scotland while the row erupted over an algorithm designed to moderate teachers’ predicted grades because exams were cancelled due to coronavirus.
Asked about the U-turn, which happened on Tuesday last week, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “The PM is of course sorry for any distress that has been caused.
“Our focus has been and will be ensuring that students can move on to the next phase and ensuring kids can get back to school next week.”
It follows heartbreaking stories of students who missed out on university places – or in the case of one person Sky News spoke to, a bursary – due to being unfairly downgraded.
The algorithm appeared to boost private schools’ performance, with ministers in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and then England succumbing to pressure to leave teachers’ marks unchanged.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson faced calls to quit after the fiasco, with one newspaper reporting he offered his resignation but had it turned down by Mr Johnson.
Asked yes or no if the story was correct, Mr Williamson said “My focus is making sure that we put right the problems.”
Pressed a further two times, he added: “My focus now is ensuring that all children are welcome back into the school classrooms next week and the week after, and we look forward to doing so.”
Ministers are pushing on with trying to ensure schools fully reopen for the new academic year and that parents have confidence it is safe to send kids back.
The UK’s four chief medical officers said “very few, if any” children would come to long-term harm from the virus by going back to school, while there is a “certainty” of harm from not attending.
But the issue has ignited after 17 members of staff and two pupils tested positive for COVID-19 at a school in Dundee – less than two weeks after schools returned in Scotland.
Mr Williamson suggested parents may be fined if they refuse to send their kids back.
He said: “We would ask all schools to work with those parents, encourage them to bring their children back, deal with the concerns that they have and fining would be very much the last resort – as it has always been.”
Mr Williamson also said closing schools would only happen as a “last resort”, though England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said the measure would be taken “if necessary”.