More than 140 schools are now below the government’s GCSE floor target because of the impact that grade boundary changes in English have had on their results. It comes as Wales this week ordered a regrade of thousands of WJEC English GCSE papers.
One school describes to SecEd this week the shock of seeing its results plummet from a predicted 58 per cent A* to C including English and maths to 37 per cent – three points below the current floor target of 40 per cent.
In a special report for SecEd, the headteacher of Hanham High School, Peggy Farrington, describes her sense of “sheer panic” when she saw her school’s results this year.
And many other schools have found themselves in the same position. As SecEd went to press, an online survey of members by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) showed that of around 730 responses so far, 143 schools have reported dropping below floor target unexpectedly as a result of their students’ English marks.
The union’s general secretary Brian Lightman said: “It’s a very alarming statistic which simply adds to the strength of the argument that something has gone badly wrong with the examinations.
“Over the last week we have been amassing a vast amount of evidence and analyses of what has been happening and we believe we have a challenging case that needs to be investigated.”
After carrying out its own investigation, exams watchdog Ofqual has refused to order a regrade of the papers, and education minister Michael Gove has so far refused to intervene.
However, the row in England intensified further this week after the Welsh government demanded that WJEC, the Welsh-based awarding body, regrade its English GCSE results, with education minister Leighton Andrews saying he feared there had been an “injustice”.
Around 33,500 candidates sat WJEC papers in Wales and Mr Andrews said that he expected “several hundred” to be awarded higher grades (click here for more on the GCSE row from Wales and Northern Ireland).
On Tuesday (September 11), the House of Commons Education Select Committee held a hearing to investigate the grading row. Witnesses included headteachers and union leaders, who reiterated their calls for a regrade.
Ofqual’s chief regulator Glenys Stacey was also called and was pushed to explain what committee chairman Graham Stuart called the “inexplicable collapse” in some schools’ results.
She told the committee: “We need to do more work on the most extreme variances. We do not understand them fully. We have to bear in mind that overall, achievement went down by 1.5 per cent and that was in line with expectations. For every school that has had a significant shortfall, there are others that have had much better results.”
Ms Stacey said they would continue to work with heads to understand more about the variances that some schools have seen.
Ms Stacey would not comment on the Welsh Assembly’s request for a WJEC regrade, telling MPs that she had not had the opportunity to review the Welsh regulator’s report.
As SecEd went to press, the Select Committee was due to quiz Mr Gove at another hearing on Wednesday (September 12).
Elsewhere, legal action over the regrading issue looks likely. Speaking to SecEd, Mr Lightman said that ASCL had received legal advice and that “initial steps will be taken to initiate legal action”.
It comes as a new alliance has been formed to push for an independent investigation into GCSE grading. Led by ASCL and the National Association of Head Teachers, the alliance includes teachers unions, independent school associations, the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, Association of Directors of Children’s Services, and National Association for the Teaching of English, among others.
The group is in the process of launching a petition on the government’s e-petition website.
The row centres around changes to the grading boundaries which meant that it was significantly tougher for students to gain a C in the GCSE English examinations sat in June compared to those sat in January.
A week-long investigation by Ofqual backed the grade boundaries set in the summer and concluded that the January tests had been marked too generously. No regrade was ordered, but resits in November were offered to candidates.
A statement from the new alliance said: “Along with much of the country, the alliance has lost confidence in Ofqual and the awarding bodies and deplores the absence of timely action to resolve the injustice. Moreover, the alliance does not feel that Ofqual could or should investigate itself. It is therefore calling for an independent inquiry.”
Mr Lightman added: “The row is essentially about fairness. It is wrong for pupils to be graded differently for the same exam. Schools have not complained about the results in science – which dropped nationally by an even larger amount than English – because that process was seen as fair and transparent.”
SecEd’s report from Hanham High School gives an insight into the impact that the grading crisis has had in schools (click here for the full report).
The South Gloucestershire secondary achieved an 86 per cent A* to C overall pass rate last month and was praised by AQA for its “rigorous approach” to marking and assessment in English. However, when its results arrived, the drop in English was dramatic and left the school on 37 per cent A* to C including English and maths. They had expected 58 per cent.
A third of the 180 pupils in year 11 had achieved a D grade in Unit 1 of the English exam – many of them C/D borderline cases. Quoting one example, Ms Farrington said that a student who achieved C grades in Units 2 and 3 of the English exam and a B in English literature was ungraded in Unit 1.