Watch: UK PM Boris Johnson quizzed over summer exams fiasco

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By Lauren Chadwick
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a Cabinet meeting of senior government ministers.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a Cabinet meeting of senior government ministers.   -   Copyright  Toby Melville/AP Photo

Boris Johnson was pressed on his government's efforts to safely return people back to work and school after the coronavirus lockdown, in the first Prime Minister's Questions since the summer break.

It comes as British children return to the classroom following the lockdown measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Johnson was criticised over the government's decision to scrap exams and use an algorithm to calculate results, which resulted in 40% of grades being lower. The government later made a U-turn and used teacher assessments to grade students.

Responding to criticism from the opposition, Johnson refused to say when he found out that there was a problem with the algorithm.

"Doing the decent thing and this prime minister don’t go together,” Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer said, saying the summer was wasted.

Starmer said the policy changes were "mess after mess" and "U-turn after U-turn".

Johnson defended his record, stating that the UK had invested in vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 and that UK children were going back to school.

Starmer said going back to school was safe but said Johnson's education secretary was "incompetent".

It came after the head of Ofqual said in the written statement on Wednesday that the Department of Education was aware of the potential "risks" and "impact" of using teacher assessments.

Getting back to work 'safely'

Johnson spent a good deal of PMQs responding to questions from Labour MPs about the job retention scheme, set to expire in October.

The furlough scheme has seen the government try to stop unemployment by paying 80% of workers' wages while they were put on leave during the coronavirus lockdown.

Johnson said he encouraged a return to the office "safely" for people, even calling out MPs stating that he thought people wanted to see them back in Westminster.

Johnson said that people need to get back to work and that they needed to feel confident to go back to work in a COVID-secure way.

"Furlough is just not the answer," Johnson said.

"It is also very important that we get people back into the workplace," he added, emphasising that the government had invested in several industries.

The Scottish National Party's Westminster leader Ian Blackford pushed back on Johnson's characterisation of the potential effects of the furlough scheme stating that it wasn't true that people would "languish" out of work if the scheme remained in place.

Channel crossings

Johnson also addressed migrants' attempts to cross the English Channel, which the UK government says are on the increase.

The PM said those crossing the channel are "undermining the legitimate claims of others who are seeking asylum".

He said that by leaving the EU, the country would be able to change regulations and said that they needed to return migrants to France which is already a safe country.

In an urgent question that followed the PMQs, home office minister Chris Philp said "those fleeing persecution have had many areas to claim asylum long before attempting" crossing the channel and said the UK was working with French authorities to prevent the channel crossings.

This morning alone, French authorities prevented 84 migrants from crossing, Philp told the House of Commons.

Philp said the country needed to work with other European countries to break up gangs that are facilitating these crossings.