'An abuse of power': Schools and pupils take GCSE grade row to High Court

Alliance is fighting  for judicial review after  teenagers were ‘victims of statistical fix’

More than 32,000 teenagers were victims of this year’s GCSE English marking fiasco, the High Court in London has heard.

The pupils, who sat the exam in June, obtained higher marks than many awarded a C grade in January – but were awarded lower grades, said Clive Sheldon, representing an alliance calling for a judicial review of the grading of this year’s exams.

He said the awarding of grades this year had been “manifestly unfair” and an “abuse of power” by exam boards the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) and Edexcel supported by exams regulator Ofqual.

He produced evidence to show that  in one English exam, the C grade boundary was raised 10 marks from 43 out of 80 to 53, trapping 32,097 pupils who scored between 44 and 48 marks, and leaving them with a D grade pass.

The court case, brought by an alliance of schools, pupils, local authorities and teachers’ organisations, is unprecedented – the first time pupils’ grades have rested on the decision of High Court judges.

Ofqual, the exams regulator, had insisted that exam boards stick within a 1 per cent tolerance threshold of predicted grades.  thus subjecting candidates to “illegitimate grade manipulation” and a “statistical fix”. This followed its policy of  “comparative outcomes”, ie, that grades should be roughly the same year on year.

“No school, no teacher, no student could have anticipated such radical changes to the boundaries from those which had been set by the examination boards in February 2012,” he said.

He produced evidence of unease among exam board officials. In one email, obtained by the alliance from Edexcel,an official, Emma Whale, said to another: “Apparently our cumulative percentage at C on English is 41 and they (Ofqual) want it down to 34.7$ and so we’ve got until tomorrow to make it happen. Am really worried at that figure, it’s so low. Man, the system really sucks.”

The alliance included an email sent by Glenys Stacey, chief executive of Ofqual, to Mr Rod Bristow, a senior official at Ofqual, which said:  “I want to be sure the position is well understood. It looks like we need to direct Edexcel about something you may wish to do with a direction – and it would be good to talk.” Glenys Stacey thenrang Mr Bristow and confirmed that if Edexcel did not implement further increases to its grade boundaries Ofqual would direct it to do so, the submission added.

The case, which is expected to last for days, with judgment being reserved until next week, is being heard by High Court judges Sir Patrick Elias and Mrs Justice Sharp.

Outside the court, headteachers gathered to lend their support to the court action. Mike Griffiths, head of Northampton School for Boys, said five of his students had missed out on A/A* grades and had been forced to abandon plans to consider going to Oxbridge.