Gove won’t intervene in GCSE row

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MICHAEL Gove has refused to intervene in the row over English GCSE grade boundaries as he warned the exams are “unfit for purpose”.

Ministers should not “meddle” in decisions made by Ofqual, the independent exams regulator, the Education Secretary said yesterday.

While acknowledging the system had failed to treat young people fairly, he told MPs it was down to Ofqual and exam boards to decide how to mark papers and rejected fresh calls to order a regrading of this summer’s English GCSE.

Mr Gove, who has faced calls over the last few days to order a re-grading of the key exam, was answering scheduled education questions in the Commons.

There has been widespread criticism from schools, councils and teaching unions over the decision to move grade boundaries for GCSE English during the last academic year – resulting in some pupils who got the same number of marks receiving different grades depending on whether their work was assessed in January or June.

Leeds City Council has announced it plans to pursue a judicial review over the decision after saying the situation led to at least 400 young people unfairly receiving D grades in English. Bradford and North Yorkshire Councils have also said they could be involved in challenging the results.

Mr Gove said problems had arisen from the structure of the GCSE exam and that the Government was reforming the system and removing modular exams.

For the first time this year, students taking GCSE English sat modular exams and submitted pieces of “controlled assessment” – coursework completed under strict classroom supervision.

Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said: “Over the past 10 days we’ve had countless examples of young people getting a D for work assessed this summer that would have got a C grade in January.”

One head, Sally Coates of Burlington Danes Academy in west London, had said it was “blatantly unfair to move the goalposts without warning midway throughout the year”, Mr Twigg added, asking Mr Gove if he agreed.

“I do agree that these examinations are unfit for purpose and need to change,” the Education Secretary replied.

He later added: “Ofqual is an independent regulator accountable to Parliament. If Ministers were to interfere in Ofqual’s decisions, they would be meddling where they should not interfere.” Mr Gove claimed it was “opportunistic” for Mr Twigg to make the case for this, and suggested that there should be a greater degree of transparency about the grade-setting and marking processes.

In the row over this summer’s GCSE English it emerged that grading boundaries had been altered between January and June. Research by the Association of School and College Leaders suggest more than 60,000 students who received Ds could have been affected by the move.

Ofqual said it would be inappropriate for either of the sets of exams to be regraded. Pupils who are unhappy can resit the GCSE in November. Hugh Bayley, Labour MP for York Central, asked Mr Gove if he would advise Ofqual to re-mark papers according to January’s boundaries.

Mr Gove replied: “I share, sadly, the sadness that many teachers and many students will feel about what happened with GCSE English this year.

“I think it’s appropriate that we all learn lessons about some of the mistakes that were made in introducing an examination modular in style, which was not best equipped to ensure that all students could perform well and be treated fairly.”

john.roberts@ypn.co.uk