Heads and Parents demand independent inquiry into GCSE grading fiasco

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An unprecedented alliance of headteachers, schools, colleges, unions and local authorities is calling for an urgent independent investigation into the GCSE grading debacle.

The alliance, which is led by Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), also includes the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) and the Girls’ School Association (GSA), with the latter two representing the majority of the UK’s top independent schools. [The full list of organisations that have joined this alliance can be found at the bottom of this release.]

Their views are backed up by parents, with 70% saying they were not happy with the way GCSE marking was handled this year. Parents also want to see the Government sanction an independent investigation. Twice as many (49%) feel such an inquiry ought to begin immediately as those who believe the matter should now be left alone (26%). The results come from a survey of 1,000 parents with school-aged children commissioned by TES on behalf of the education-based alliance.

The group has also launched a petition on the Government website, calling for the investigation and for the issue to be debated in Parliament.

This extraordinary education alliance demonstrates the strength of feeling against a transparently unjust procedure that grades students inconsistently for the same exam. The grading errors in GCSE English will have massive implications for both students and schools. Not only do students not know if they’ve got places in sixth-forms or colleges, but many will now lose out on apprenticeships, purely as a result of the mismanaged implementation of this examination.

The bad news doesn’t stop there, as for many it will affect their ability to go to university, with institutions demanding at least a C in GCSE English for admission, regardless of A-level results.

Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders said: “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.”

Ofqual has so far failed to take any responsibility for the GCSE debacle and to hold the awarding bodies to account. Dismissing the grading inconsistencies as “luck”, it stated that it was “regrettable” that grade boundaries were moved to such a large extent mid-year, and labelled schools’ and parents’ very real concerns as “myths”. For an independent regulator, this beggars belief.

The grading fiasco, which has dashed so many students’ hopes, could have been resolved three years ago when Ofqual first noticed the problem.
However, Ofqual’s failure to act risks undermining parents’ and students’ confidence in the exam system.

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.

The situation echoes that of 10 years ago when Ofqual’s predecessor claimed there was no case to answer after a similar outcry over A-levels.
However, following an independent investigation, thousands of papers were re-graded when the process was found to be unclear and shambolic.

Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers said: “This situation is fundamentally unjust. A student’s grade shouldn’t depend on whether they take a test in January or June. We need an inquiry and we need it urgently: jobs and college places are on the line. How can we persuade young people of the value of education when the outcomes are so arbitrary?

Dr Christopher Ray, Chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, feels this issue is evidence of even deeper problems with Ofqual, the awarding bodies and the GCSE system as a whole. He said: “The verdict of Ofqual’s initial report and the reasoning to support it fall well short of answering the questions raised in the minds of schools and pupils.

He continued: “More broadly, the need for this review and its result heighten concerns harboured by HMC over several years that the GCSE examination, the role of awarding bodies for GCSEs and the relation of these bodies with Ofqual are as they should be. There is far more wrong with our examination system than unexpected adjustments to grade boundaries, but the problems highlighted by these changes are symptomatic of a deeper and wider malaise.”

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