Legal action threatened in GCSE grading row

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Headteachers have rejected Ofqual's decision not to regrade this summer's English GCSE and have threatened legal action. It comes as Michael Gove refuses to intervene, but promises to scrap GCSEs.

Education minister Michael Gove was challenged on the issue in Parliament on Monday (September 3) but refused calls to intervene, stating that it would be wrong to “interfere” with the independent regulator’s decisions. He had earlier told the BBC: “It would be absolutely wrong for me to give instructions to Ofqual.”

The exams watchdog carried out a week-long investigation after it emerged that grade boundaries had become significantly tougher for English GCSE papers sat in June than for those sat in January.

It meant that thousands of students who took exams in the summer missed out on expected C grades, with as many as 10 extra marks needed to get a C in June.

On Friday (August 31), Ofqual concluded that it was actually the January grade boundaries which had been set “too generously” and that those for June were fair. The regulator said that it would not be appropriate to revisit the grades.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) called the report “a fudge”, while the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) rejected its findings.

Ofqual has directed exam boards to offer a one-off re-sit opportunity in November and allow schools to withdraw their “Enquiry About Result” submissions without charge. The boards will also be required to re-issue advice about their boundary-setting processes.

Chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: “We have found that examiners acted properly and set the boundaries using their best professional judgement.

“The issue is not the June, but the January boundaries. Again, examiners used their best judgement in setting these boundaries, but they had less data and information to work with. Most candidates were not sitting at the time, they were waiting for June and because they were new qualifications, examiners could not rely so much on direct comparisons with the past. As a result, those grade boundaries were set generously.”

For the units in question – the written controlled assessments – seven per cent of entries were in January with the remainder in June. 

ASCL contends that at least 20 per cent of secondary schools in England and Wales have been negatively affected – with predicted results down at least five per cent. 

General secretary Brian Lightman said it was not “acceptable or practicable” to make the students re-sit examinations.

He said: “This is not about the rights and wrongs of modular qualifications but about following the basic textbook principle of ensuring that assessment is reliable and fit-for-purpose. (We) accept that grade boundaries can change by a couple of marks, but to change by 10 or more makes a mockery of the system. If necessary we will resort to a legal challenge to this unfairness.”

An NAHT statement was headlined: “Ofqual fudge fails thousands of students” and general secretary Russell Hobby said he was “extremely disappointed”.

He added: “For there to be no regrading for the candidates taking the exam in June is deeply concerning and a national disgrace. Experienced teachers predicted these grades based on years of knowledge and professional skill. They were not surprised by January results but they were surprised, shocked even, by June results. How do we square that circle?

“Our call for results to be regraded remains. There is still the potential for a legal challenge.”

The three major awarding bodies, Edexcel, OCR and AQA have all pledged to offer the November re-sits free of charge. 

Elsewhere, speaking to the BBC on Monday, Mr Gove said that the way the GCSE was split into modules brought “inherent problems” with assessment.

He has already ended modules and re-sits for GCSEs being sat in 2014 but he said he wanted to go further and “replace GCSEs with new examinations”. 

He added: “What we need to do is have an examination which has all the rigour of the old O level but which is sat by a majority of students so that we can ensure that everyone is treated fairly.”

He said the Department for Education would make an announcement later this autumn.

It came a day after Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said that the row presented an opportunity to overhaul GCSEs to ensure they are rigorous and credible.

The Ofqual report also emphasised that ministers had not brought any influence to bear on the shifting of grade boundaries.

CAPTION: Teachers took to social media to organise a protest over the grading of GCSE English exams. It took place outside the Department for Education last Tuesday, August 28, and was organised by a teacher from south London who said that many of her students have missed out on their predicted C as a result of the grade boundary changes. Around 50 people attended the
demonstration.



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