Gavin Williamson has been warned that failure to have schools reopen smoothly after the summer holidays will mean the end of his tenure as Education Secretary.
Senior backbenchers said the reopening of the schools in the next two weeks is so critical to any economic recovery that any mishap would make his position unsustainable following a series of blunders culminating in the A-level grading fiasco.
Government sources have indicated that Boris Johnson will not sack Mr Williamson, despite unverified reports that he offered his resignation over the u-turn over A-level grading after an outcry from Tory MPs, pupils, parents and teachers.
The Telegraph revealed on Wednesday that the Prime Minister is resisting calls for an autumn reshuffle despite a mounting Tory backlash amid fears that coronavirus mishaps have left the Government being laughed at, with Mr Williamson having lost the confidence of parents and teachers.
However, one highly-influential Tory backbencher said: “So many things are contingent on getting children back to school so any failure to do so would be massive. It’s absolutely crucial.
“I think you can work out for yourself what the implications would be if it went wrong. There’s a limit to the amount of mess that can be allowed.”
Another senior former Tory cabinet minister said that any continued chaos would mean Williamson "may find he is more expendable than he thinks".
Tim Loughton, a former children’s minister and a member of the home affairs committee, said: “It’s absolutely essential that we have strong leadership from the Department for Education (DFE) and very clear guidance about how schools get back on track after the chaos of the last five months.
“There is absolutely no excuse for any school not pulling out all the stops to get all its pupils back in September. There needs to be very tough questions asked if that is not the case.
“It is really essential for the DFE to regain control of the agenda in the interests of our children.”
Following Mr Williamson's role in the exam results fiasco, Robert Halfon, the Conservative chair of the education select committee, said the Prime Minister must personally lead the back-to-school campaign in order to ensure confidence.
“We have to reassure parents to get our kids back into school. The Prime Minister should lead this. The best way of restoring confidence in the country is if we deliver now on that promise to get our children learning again,” he said.
“We must have a proper campaign – as good as stay home, save lives, protect the NHS – to make sure parents feel safe and confident sending their children back to school.”
On Wednesday morning Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that calls for Mr Williamson to quit over the A-level grades fiasco were a distraction at a time when he was focused on getting children back to school next month.
He said all ministers were "trying to do their best" in unprecedented circumstances "and I know that is true of Gavin Williamson".
"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."
However, another senior Tory MP said: "The next few days are key as to whether Gavin stays or goes. It all depends on the fall out from universities and GCSEs.
"If the Government is still cloaked in chaos by the weekend then I think Boris will have to act.
“Gavin is a Machiavellian character and make no mistake that picture of him with the whip was a threat. He was saying to backbenchers 'I have dirt on you, don't you dare speak out against me'.
"I even imagine it was directed at the Prime Minister. He may know some of Boris’s secrets but is it worth it? He is already starting to lose political capital as he did with the Dominic Cummings saga."