Exams regulator refuses to back down in grading row

Exams regulator Ofqual has vowed to defend itself over this summer’s GCSE English fiasco, prompting claims it is ignoring “overwhelming” evidence that the move to alter grade boundaries was unfair and bringing the prospect of legal action ever closer.

A row broke out following the publication of exam results in August, when it was revealed grade boundaries had been changed between tests taken in January and those taken in June.

Headteachers and local authority bosses said it unfairly led to pupils getting a D when the same standard of work would have earned a C months earlier.

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Ofqual’s inquiry concluded that January’s GCSE English assessments were “graded generously” but the June boundaries were properly set and candidates’ work properly graded.

It insisted it would be inappropriate for either set of exams to be regraded, and instead said students would be given an extra chance to resit the GCSE in November.

That prompted a pre-action letter two weeks ago from an alliance of pupils, schools, councils and professional groups, including eight councils from Yorkshire and more than a dozen schools from Leeds, setting out plans for an unprecedented legal challenge.

The letter, which was also sent to the AQA and Edexcel exam boards, said action would be taken over decisions to increase the boundary for a grade C between January and June and Ofqual’s subsequent failure to address the situation.

It argued that those pupils who sat the exam in June had been treated with “conspicuous unfairness”, and called for June’s papers to be re-graded in line with the January C grade boundaries.

If this did not happen, the alliance said it would seek a judicial review.

The prospect of that legal action moved a step closer last night when Ofqual stood its ground.

“We have responded to the pre-action letter and are rigorously defending our decisions,” an Ofqual spokesman said.

“Our work to understand why some schools’ results differed significantly from their expectations is continuing and we will report again shortly.”

The statement came in spite of a decision by Wales education minister Leighton Andrews last month to order the re-grading of Welsh students’ English papers. As a result, early 2,400 pupils who took English with the exam board received better results.

Coun Judith Blake, Leeds City Council’s executive member for children’s services who has also called for an independent inquiry and led calls for a re-grading of exam papers, criticised Ofqual’s decision.

“It’s difficult to understand why Ofqual has been unable to recognise the overwhelming evidence that has been put before them and the overwhelming outrage at the way this situation has been handled.

“We are talking about young people whose life chances have been put at risk.

“It’s extremely disappointing that Ofqual has not acknowledged the feelings presented to it.”