Justice must be done


The GCSE grading fiasco cannot be swept under the carpet and a legal challenge is on the cards. Kevin Courtney explains.

It is now almost two months has since the publication of the GCSE results and the controversy that arose from changed grade boundaries but so far education secretary Michael Gove has not responded adequately to the situation.

Between January and June exam boards changed the grade boundaries in such a way that many pupils who would have scored a C in January scored a D in June – for exactly the same work. This change was not explained and has disadvantaged many thousands of pupils and their schools.

Mr Gove should immediately announce an independent inquiry into how this was allowed to happen. 

There has been considerable speculation that the interaction between the education secretary’s well-publicised concerns about so-called “grade inflation” together with his intention to rationalise the number of exam boards has led to some of the exam boards acting in this damaging way.

There is further speculation that Mr Gove’s desire to turn all of England’s secondary schools into academies underlies his decision to increase the floor target  from 35 to 40 per cent of pupils achieving five A* to C GCSE grades including English and maths. 

If classified as “failing”, schools will of course be more threatened with forced academisation by private sponsors.

A summit of headteachers called by Leeds City Council and sponsored by a number of education unions took place in Leeds on Tuesday, October 9, to look at how we can progress the issue further and get a result that will right the wrong that so many pupils and schools have suffered.

The conclusion from across the education spectrum was that the only immediate way of putting right the injustice faced by so many students, teachers and schools is that this summer’s exams should be regraded, not remarked, using the same criteria applied in assessing the work of January entrants.

This, alongside an independent inquiry, would be an important step to begin to address the deep sense of mistrust that is developing between teachers and government.

This speculation that education is now increasingly a political football is extremely corrosive to teachers’ trust in the government’s handling of the education system. 

We are disappointed that Ofqual has not recognised and rectified the serious concerns over this year’s GCSEs. This is an entirely unacceptable situation. The faith of teachers, pupils and parents in the examination system is so knocked, Ofqual, like the government cannot be allowed to bury its head in the sand.

There is now not a shadow of a doubt that this year’s GCSE grade boundaries were changed without warning half way through the school year purely out of a fear that too many pupils were succeeding. 

This is purely and simply political manipulation. Educational achievement and success is not something this or any government should be allowed to limit.

The education secretary’s position of indifference is now untenable. The Welsh government has acted in a wholly appropriate manner and ordered a regrade of the exams affected. It is time this government followed suit.

The NUT alongside the alliance of schools, local authorities and teaching unions will be looking at the possibility of a legal challenge against Ofqual and the examination boards AQA and Edexcel in England (see the news pages of this edition for the latest update on this).

This is an issue that we cannot let be swept under the carpet. The case has to be made for those students and schools who have been cheated of the grades for which they worked so hard.

  • Kevin Courtney is deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. Visit www.teachers.org.uk


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