Headteachers are demanding that all English GCSE papers should be re-marked after students received lower than expected grades. The headteachers’ group ASCL is threatening legal action over the “grade fixing” fiasco.
The row follows complaints by Tory education secretary Michael Gove that exams were too easy. Gove laid into teachers for “competitive dumbing down” and threatened to abolish GCSEs.
The government piled the pressure on exam boards to give lower grades and last minute changes to the grading of GCSEs were made. This means that students who took the exam earlier in the year were marked by different criteria than those who took it in the summer.
So for one task set by the AQA exam board, students needed 54 percent of the marks to get a C grade in January. But in June students required 66 percent for a similar assignment to get a C grade.
Headteachers called the marking of the English exams “manifestly unfair” and “appalling”. But Gove stood by the results, saying, “You cannot have a situation where exam passes continue rising forever and ever.”
The exams regulator Ofqual admitted that there were “questions about how grade boundaries were set in a very small number of units across the year”. Yet this was the body that instructed exam boards to do more to tackle “grade inflation”.
The change meant that the numbers getting A* to C grades fell for the first time since students started sitting GCSEs in 1988. Those getting grade A* to C in English fell by 1.5 percent.
The changes to grading affect hundreds of thousands of students. For some it will snatch away their chance of going to college. One English teacher spoke to Socialist Worker from her London school where students were receiving their results.
“What the government has done is utterly outrageous,” she said. “It has changed the goalposts at the last moment. The students who are hit the most are on the borderline between a C and a D.
“Schools are obsessed about these grades because of league tables. It makes a big difference to the futures of every student who misses a C. What Gove has done will reduce young people’s opportunities.”
The changes to grading will also mean more schools can be judged as “failing” because they haven’t met the government’s target for grades in English and Maths.
More schools will face the threat or closure or conversion into an academy. And for those young people who can’t find work, their “low” grades will be a convenient excuse.