Exclusive

Fury as examiners are told to fix A-level results to match last year's

 

Exam boards have been told they should fix pass rates and grades for this summer's GCSE and A-level exams to match last year, causing fears some pupils will be held back from reaching the highest level possible, The Independent can reveal.

The move, outlined in a policy document from the exams regulator Ofqual, is intended to halt year-on-year rises in exam success. But some say it could hold students back and hard-working schools won't see their efforts rewarded.

Academics and headteachers claim say the move is a return to the days when A-level results were "norm referenced", for example, a fixed percentage of pupils was awarded an A grade pass (10 per cent) every year.

Since this was scrapped in 1987, the percentage of A grades awarded has steadily risen from 10 per cent to 27 per cent – while the pass rate has gone up from 70 per cent to 97.8 per cent.

Adrian Prandle, education policy adviser at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said there were concerns about the approach.

"If exam boards can ensure that pupils who sit an exam this year won't get lower grades than they deserve then we welcome it," he said. "However, if as a consequence of tougher rules on grade boundaries, pupils are denied the opportunity to gain the highest grade of which they are capable and which they would have got in another year, then they will be unfairly disadvantaged. In these tough economic circumstances, that will hit pupils' future chances hard."

Ofqual's chief executive Glenys Stacey denies this is the case and insists that genuine improvements in teaching and learning standards will still be recognised by higher grade passes.

The policy of "comparable outcomes" was in fact introduced at A-level last year and was one of the reasons why there was not the anticipated rise in the awarding of A* grades (they were up from 8.6 per cent to 8.7 per cent) and the percentage of A-grade passes was pegged at 27 per cent.

This year is the first time the policy will be extended to both GCSEs and A-levels. Exam boards will be urged to predict A-level and GCSE results based on the past performance of pupils. At A-level, GCSE performance will be taken into account while – for GCSE – performance in national curriculum tests at 11 will be looked at.

Exam boards will compare any improvements in performance with those achieved by pupils in the previous year. If the interim awards prove higher than predicted, the Ofqual document says: "If necessary we will require exam boards to change their grade boundaries." The key passage in Ofqual's document says that the policy – dubbed "comparable outcomes" – means "roughly the same proportion of students will achieve each grade as in the previous year". Exam boards will face increasing hurdles if they seek to justify year-on-year rises.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University, said: "The awarding bodies are going to be asked to account for any big deviation upwards.

"I think it is a useful interim measure to tackle the gross inflation in A-level results but it can only be temporary.

"In essence we've brought about a new form of norm referencing by setting the levels at where they were in 2010 – but there is nothing to say this is the most appropriate distribution of grades and we need to examine this."

Headteachers have been alarmed by the policy – warning its implementation will make it impossible to deliver on Education Secretary Michael Gove's insistence that schools increase the percentage of top A* to C grade passes at GCSE in maths and English.

"It does create a difficulty," said Malcolm Trobe at the Association of School and College Leaders. "The Secretary of State is wanting to have his cake and eat it. There is a real possibility that a number of people will be surprised and concerned that examination results will not show the improvements they had anticipated."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "Ministers are clear it is only fair to every hard-working young person there is no grade inflation or dumbing down in the exam system."

TESTING TIMES: PASS OR FAIL

A-levels were first introduced in 1951. They were awarded a pass or fail. A grading structure did not emerge until 1963 when pupils could be awarded an A, B, C, D, E, O or F grade. O was equal to an O-level pass, F was failure. Grades were norm referenced – 10 per cent received A grades, 15 per cent got C grades, etc. The pass rate was 70 per cent with the rest awarded O or F. The system was abolished in 1983 and grades were awarded according to merit. A grades have since risen from 10 per cent to 27 per cent and the pass rate from 70 per cent to 97.8 per cent, fuelling claims of grade inflation.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee