25 Aug 2012

Regulator to probe ‘unfair’ GCSE results

The exam watchdog Ofqual promises to look again at GCSE gradings amid claims that thousands of pupils have been unfairly given a D grade in English instead of a C.

GCSE pupils (Reuters)

Ofqual chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: “We recognise the continuing concerns among students, parents and teachers about this year’s GCSE English results.

“We will look closely at how the results were arrived at. We will do this quickly, but thoroughly, so that we ensure confidence is maintained in our examinations system.”

Ms Stacey said she expected to gather evidence over the next week and that Ofqual would then meet awarding bodies to discuss its findings.

The move was a response to a letter from the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), who said the minimum requirement for a C grade in English went up by ten marks during the year amid fears that too many children were going to get a C. The grade is a crucial benchmark that could affect pupils’ chances of going on to do A-levels or further education.

GCSE results for England, Wales and Northern Ireland revealed this week that 69.4 per cent of all GCSE exams were given at least a C grade – down 0.4 percentage points on last summer. It was the first fall in the A*-C pass rate in the 24-year history of GCSEs.

The Centre for Education and Employment Research think-tank said as many as 10,000 fewer pupils achieved the mark in English this year compared to last year.

In many cases, this may well prevent them from taking up opportunities to pursue A Level courses. Russell Hobby

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said: “It has become apparent that grade boundaries were significantly altered between the January and June examinations series and the consequence of this has been that the overall requirement for attaining a C grade increased by ten marks between January and June.

“These adjustments appear to have been made because of unsubstantiated concerns that there was too high a pass rate emerging from the January series. NAHT believes that this is an iniquitous and unfair state of affairs, discriminating against those pupils whose schools took the decision to enter them in June.”

John Nield, the former Principal Examiner for English at AQA, one exam board now under scrutiny, told Channel 4 News the change in grade boundaries was “totally unfair” and said there had been pressure from Ofqual to change grade boundaries between C and D.

He added: “My perception is that the Secretary of State, if he were to want pressure one way, it would be for standards to be kept up and for that mark to go up in order that fewer students got the C at GCSE.”

AQA said in a statement: “We are confident that we have maintained standards and awarded the right grades this summer.”

Education Secretary Michael Gove, who has announced plans to reform GCSEs, denied that political interference had led to changes in the way this year’s exams were marked.

A Department for Education spokesman said the government welcomed Ofqual’s decision to investigate the matter.

A number of local authorities are reportedly considering legal action.