Heads "committed to legal action" in GCSE grading row


The Association of School and College Leaders has said it is "committed to moving to the next stage of legal action" in the GCSE grading fiasco. It comes as school leaders stepped up the pressure on government, Ofqual and exam boards by hosting a national

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has said it is "committed to moving to the next stage of legal action" in the GCSE grading fiasco.

ASCL is part of the alliance of schools and local authorities which is seeking a Judicial Review over the decision not to regrade GCSE English papers from this summer.

The news comes as school leaders this week stepped up the pressure on government, exams regulator Ofqual and examination boards by hosting a national summit to discuss the situation.

On Tuesday (October 9), 200 secondary heads from across the country met in Leeds to share their experiences and plan future strategies, sending a clear message to the exams regulator, awarding bodies and ministers that the dispute is not going to go away.

Earlier in the week, Ofqual and the awarding bodies AQA and Edexcel had refused to change their position in response to the alliance's legal challenge “pre-action letter”.

The letter was sent two weeks ago by the London Borough of Lewisham on behalf of an alliance of almost 200 individuals, schools and local authorities who have been affected by the scandal.

The claims made in the pre-action letter included that the changing of grade boundaries between January and June this year was “conspicuously unfair and/or an abuse of power”, irrational, and “in contravention of the cardinal principle of good administration that all persons who are in a similar position should be fairly treated; and taken in breach of both the public sector equalities duty and the Human Rights Act 1998”.

In a statement, Ofqual said: “We have responded to the pre-action letter and are rigorously defending our decisions. Our work to understand why some schools’ results differed significantly from their expectations is continuing and we will report again shortly.”

Ofqual has consistently claimed there were no problems with the marking of papers taken in June but said that the January cohort had been marked too leniently and offered summer candidates the opportunity to re-sit free of charge in November.

The regulator is currently carrying out visits to about 100 schools affected by the crisis to find out first-hand what happened. 

ASCL said it was “very disappointing that Ofqual, Edexcel and AQA have refused to take responsibility for this year’s GCSE fiasco”. Following a meeting of the alliance on Wednesday (October 10), an ASCL statement confirmed it is "committed to moving to the next stage of legal action" and said that regrading was the only fair outcome for students.

General secretary Brian Lightman said: “We are very disappointed that Ofqual and the awarding bodies have refused to take responsibility for their actions and to acknowledge that many thousands of young people's career ambitions have been undermined by a failure to implement the new qualification properly. ASCL is determined to proceed to legal action and is working closely with other members of the alliance on this.

“Telling students whose papers were downgraded that they can re-sit the exam early is a completely inadequate response. It is a damage limitation exercise that will only erode public confidence in the exam system further. The re-sits will affect profoundly many students’ immediate progression options, not to mention their academic records and their future applications.”

Speaking to SecEd earlier in the week, Mr Lightman had said he was disappointed that Ofqual and the awarding bodies refused to acknowledge "that the way this year’s exams were carried out meant that thousands of young people were treated unfairly".

He added: “We will not let this rest. Ofqual says it has a duty to uphold standards, which is correct, but it should not do this at the expense of young people’s futures. Our solicitors are looking over the response letters and we will be meeting soon with the other participants in the legal challenge to decide the best way forward.”

It comes as Wales this week announced an overhaul of GCSE English language criteria and said that from 2014 WJEC will be the only awarding body offering accredited specifications in Wales. Northern Ireland, meanwhile, has set-up a “root and branch” review of GCSEs (click here for more on the criteria change in Wales and here for more on the Northern Ireland review).

Back in England, John Townsley, principal of Morley Academy and executive head of Farnley Academy, both in Leeds, and one of the organisers of the headteachers’ summit, said English results at Morley were down by 15 per cent.

“We are an outstanding school, with an outstanding English department who are accurate in their predictions year-on-year to within a one per cent margin,” he said. “The meeting will be an opportunity for heads to get together to share experiences and discuss how these developments have affected their individual schools, as well as exploring what long-term action can be taken.

“What we have here is a national disaster and awarding bodies and a regulator that have been found lacking. We no longer have any confidence in the system or the regulator. We have an inquiry in which Ofqual is investigating its own actions and yet they are at the heart of the whole fiasco.

“About 20,000 students have been affected and about 4,500 have lost out on places on apprenticeships as a result of not having achieved a C in English. This is a matter of national significance at a time of rising youth unemployment. It is breath-taking that neither the secretary of state nor the  Education Select Committee have given this matter the attention it deserves.”

Simon Flowers, principal at Carr Manor Community College, also in Leeds, said heads were dismayed at the way pupils had been treated: “These children have been caught in a statistical exercise and their work has been devalued and unrewarded. This has been done to them regardless of the quality of their work. Thousands of children’s futures have been detrimentally affected and it has placed these children and their families at risk.”

Leeds City Council has been spearheading the legal challenge alongside Lewisham. Judith Blake, executive member for children’s services, said: “We are determined to get a fair decision for our young people.”

CAPTION: Justice: The alliance of schools and local authorities is to decide shortly on the next steps in their push for a Judicial Review over the way English GCSEs were graded this summer


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