Heads want inquiry on ‘unfair’ GSCE marks

It was good news for some pupils at Cheney School on Thursday, but English GCSE results came as a major shock to dozens of others

It was good news for some pupils at Cheney School on Thursday, but English GCSE results came as a major shock to dozens of others

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HEADTEACHERS across Oxfordshire have backed calls for an independent inquiry into the grading of this summer’s GCSE English language exams.

The National Association of Headteachers has written to Education Secretary Michael Gove and the chief executive of exams regulator Ofqual calling for an independent inquiry into changes to the grade boundaries, while the Association of School and College Lecturers is considering a legal challenge.

The number of marks pupils needed to get a C was changed between exams in January and those in June, leaving between 4,000 and 10,000 students nationwide with a D grade when they had been on course to receive a C – a critical pass mark taken into account by sixth forms, colleges, and employers.

Last night Oxfordshire headteachers said they would accept affected pupils on to sixth form courses, and urged others not to discriminate against them.

Andrew Hamilton, headteacher of Eynsham’s Bartholomew School, has sent back 22 papers to be remarked and said he believed the changes to the marking were politically motivated.

Backing calls for an inquiry, he added: “For the sixth form, we are being very much more lenient if they don’t have the C in English Language.”

Jolie Kirby, headteacher at Cheney School, Oxford, where 30 to 40 students didn’t make the C they were hoping for, said she supported the call for an inquiry.

She said: “It has been a travesty for students who should have secured vital grades so they can then progress onto sixth form, employment and apprenticeships. It is very important it is pursued.”

Dr Fiona Hammans, headteacher at Banbury Academy, formerly Banbury School, described the English results as “ridiculous”, with 28 students having C or above in maths but failing to get a C or higher in English language.

She said the school had lodged two formal complaints with exam board Oxford and Cambridge RSA Examinations.

She said: “Many of these students have Bs in everything else and in English language they have got a D. ”

Both Abingdon & Witney College and Oxford & Cherwell Valley College have said they will consider pupils who have not got a C in English language.

Abingdon & Witney vice-principal Maureen Boyle said teenagers who were predicted a C but only achieved a D would not be turned away on the condition that they resat the GCSE.

And Oxford & Cherwell Valley principal Sally Dicketts said: “If your English is good but you have failed because of a regrading issue, you will be fine.”

The changes to grade boundaries were made by the individual exam boards and the Ofqual investigation is looking at how grade boundaries were set and how the results were arrived at. Ofqual has previously denied that any changes to the system were made politically to combat so-called grade inflation. Banbury MP Tony Baldry said he had been contacted by some individuals who had not received the grades expected – but said he did not believe it was appropriate for ministers to intervene. He said: “The regulator needs to sort it out and the Education Select Committee, which will sit next week and will almost certainly carry out an investigation, needs to do some overall evaluation. Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said he had written to Michael Gove asking for the situation to be looked into. He said: “Exam results should not be a matter for political interference, but if those have made a mistake or this policy is ill-thought or has impacted unfairly on students, it’s got to be put right.”

The NAHT yesterday said it had held a “constructive meeting” with Ofqual about its concerns andp would be providing further, detailed information to Ofqual to assist the investigation.

The offices of Oxford West & Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood, Wantage MP Ed Vaizey , Henley MP John Howell , and Witney MP and Prime Minister David Cameron were contacted but none were available for comment.

THE LETTER:

Dear Michael,
I write to share NAHT’s grave concerns about the circumstances surrounding this year’s GCSE examinations, with particular reference to English Language.
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.
The decision will have serious consequences for those pupils adversely affected.
In many cases, this may well prevent them from taking up opportunities to pursue A Level courses.
This situation offends natural justice and is, quite simply, unfair.
If no action is taken it could also risk doubt being cast on the reliability of the grades awarded to the January cohort.
We are asking you to instigate an independent enquiry as to how this situation was allowed to occur.
We believe that there is a course of action that could begin to address the manifest unfairness of the situation and restore confidence in the examination system.
This involves the re-grading of June entrants using the same criteria applied in assessing the work of January entrants.
However, only a full, independent enquiry will start to assuage the universal outcry from pupils, parents and school leaders alike against this appalling situation.
Yours sincerely,
Russell Hobby
General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers

Comments (5)

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10:26am Wed 29 Aug 12

Lady Penelopee says...

A "C" means nothing nowadays, as 20 years ago it would have been an E.

With exams getting easier (FACT - confirmed by teachers) and grade inflation, there is now no way of distinguishing between a good candidate and an exceptional candidate.

Something needs to be done to standardise the method of measuring achievement at 16 years old.

By "adjusting" the grades, all they are doing is trying to stop grade inflation. It's a better idea than introducing an A**, or maybe even an A***???

Yes, it's harsh, but SOMETHING needs to be done.
A "C" means nothing nowadays, as 20 years ago it would have been an E. With exams getting easier (FACT - confirmed by teachers) and grade inflation, there is now no way of distinguishing between a good candidate and an exceptional candidate. Something needs to be done to standardise the method of measuring achievement at 16 years old. By "adjusting" the grades, all they are doing is trying to stop grade inflation. It's a better idea than introducing an A**, or maybe even an A***??? Yes, it's harsh, but SOMETHING needs to be done. Lady Penelopee
  • Score: -1

12:34pm Wed 29 Aug 12

Severian says...

Lady Penelopee - the GCSE was brought in by the Tories to replace two different exams. It covers a wide spectrum of ability, and trying to compare grades at GCSE with grades at GCE is meaningless. Saying "exams were much harder in the old days" is pointless.

The GCE had a relative grading system - the percentage of each grade awarded was fixed, so if students collectively worked harder, or got smarter, it made no difference - and you couldn't compare one year against any other. That is why the Tories replaced it with an exam which actually gave a grade based on each student's ability, rather than based on the ability of that year's cohort.

The problem this year is that politicians live Michael Gove, who doesn't give a s**t about kids and their hopes, aspirations, dreams, plans or ambition, have decided to play to the Daily Maily gallery of old Tories who want a return to the 1900s when kids wrote on slates, and poor kids were sent down the mines.

I assume that you consider "grade inflation" to be a bad thing, whereas what it actually represents is a fair measure that our kids are being taught better, and learn more, than they ever did before.

But then old Tories would never believe that, so it's pretty pointless trying to persuade you otherwise.
Lady Penelopee - the GCSE was brought in by the Tories to replace two different exams. It covers a wide spectrum of ability, and trying to compare grades at GCSE with grades at GCE is meaningless. Saying "exams were much harder in the old days" is pointless. The GCE had a relative grading system - the percentage of each grade awarded was fixed, so if students collectively worked harder, or got smarter, it made no difference - and you couldn't compare one year against any other. That is why the Tories replaced it with an exam which actually gave a grade based on each student's ability, rather than based on the ability of that year's cohort. The problem this year is that politicians live Michael Gove, who doesn't give a s**t about kids and their hopes, aspirations, dreams, plans or ambition, have decided to play to the Daily Maily gallery of old Tories who want a return to the 1900s when kids wrote on slates, and poor kids were sent down the mines. I assume that you consider "grade inflation" to be a bad thing, whereas what it actually represents is a fair measure that our kids are being taught better, and learn more, than they ever did before. But then old Tories would never believe that, so it's pretty pointless trying to persuade you otherwise. Severian
  • Score: 1

1:01pm Wed 29 Aug 12

Sue Dickinson says...

Worryingly the headline reads GSCE not GCSE!!!
Worryingly the headline reads GSCE not GCSE!!! Sue Dickinson
  • Score: 3

2:15pm Wed 29 Aug 12

Lady Penelopee says...

Severian, I’m referring to the initial GCSEs, which started 1988, so 24 years ago!

Kids in general are not getting brighter. The mean intelligence has not increased. On this basis, grades should not keep going up and up. But they HAVE, which can only mean grade inflation, and easier exams.

The current system is totally unfair on youngsters, where so many get the top grade it’s impossible to know which pupils are just “good”, and which are exceptional.

The exam marking system needs to be standardised, perhaps with just one exam board, and ALL pupils sitting the same exam. We don’t need to go back to the old GCE system with a sliding boundary, as that means that 50% of kids are always “below average”, and thus giving them nothing to work towards, but we do need to create a CHALLENGING exam system, where the grades accurately reflect the ability of the pupil and the effort they have put in.

We also need to stop obsessing about league tables. Schools generally brand pupils as “bright ones who will always get above a C, so will not affect their league table”, “no hopers, who stand no chance”, and the “could get a C” group. It’s the latter group who get all the attention, as they’re the ones who affect the school’s position in the table. The other two groups will then suffer.

A school needs to be a place of education, where everyone is given an equal chance to learn.
Severian, I’m referring to the initial GCSEs, which started 1988, so 24 years ago! Kids in general are not getting brighter. The mean intelligence has not increased. On this basis, grades should not keep going up and up. But they HAVE, which can only mean grade inflation, and easier exams. The current system is totally unfair on youngsters, where so many get the top grade it’s impossible to know which pupils are just “good”, and which are exceptional. The exam marking system needs to be standardised, perhaps with just one exam board, and ALL pupils sitting the same exam. We don’t need to go back to the old GCE system with a sliding boundary, as that means that 50% of kids are always “below average”, and thus giving them nothing to work towards, but we do need to create a CHALLENGING exam system, where the grades accurately reflect the ability of the pupil and the effort they have put in. We also need to stop obsessing about league tables. Schools generally brand pupils as “bright ones who will always get above a C, so will not affect their league table”, “no hopers, who stand no chance”, and the “could get a C” group. It’s the latter group who get all the attention, as they’re the ones who affect the school’s position in the table. The other two groups will then suffer. A school needs to be a place of education, where everyone is given an equal chance to learn. Lady Penelopee
  • Score: 0

4:03pm Wed 29 Aug 12

Lady Penelopee says...

If you really want proof that the exams have got easier, then compare the examiners' marking schemes for a 1992 paper and a 2012 paper in English language.

They show what a pupil has to demonstrate to obtain each grade bracket, and the requirements have changed (dropped!) considerably over the years.
If you really want proof that the exams have got easier, then compare the examiners' marking schemes for a 1992 paper and a 2012 paper in English language. They show what a pupil has to demonstrate to obtain each grade bracket, and the requirements have changed (dropped!) considerably over the years. Lady Penelopee
  • Score: 0

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