Scores of pupils have joined forces with schools and councils to threaten an unprecedented High Court action over the refusal to regrade this summer's GCSE English papers.
An extraordinary alliance of 180 pupils, 113 schools, 36 local authorities and seven professional organisations was formed yesterday to challenge the exams regulator Ofqual and exam boards.
It was responding to the last-minute decision to raise the boundary for a C-grade pass in English this summer – which left up to 65,000 pupils threatened with the loss of sixth-form or college places to take A-levels. The group demands that Ofqual orders the papers to be regraded or face a High Court claim for a judicial review.
Jonathan Clarke, one of the pupils involved in the action, who took his GCSEs at St Matthew Academy in Blackheath, south London, said: "I worked hard for a C grade in English and it has been taken away from me right at the end. That is just not fair.
"I am now having to redo the course with a different exam board over the next year at the same time as doing four A-levels."
Michael Barry, his headteacher, added: "Jonathan is one of 31 students from our school who has suffered in this way. He is a hard-working, conscientious student, getting two A*s, four As, two Bs, three Cs and then a D in English. It is obvious that something is wrong here."
The signatories to the demand, who include heads of academies, have sent a pre-action letter to Ofqual, giving it seven days to respond before approaching the courts. The key point they make is that it is unjust for pupils who sat the exam in January – before the grade boundary for a C was raised by 10 marks – to receive a higher grade for exactly the same marks as those who sat the exam in June.
In addition, 2,386 students in Wales have had their grades increased as a result of an order by the Welsh Assembly to the country's exam board, the WJEC, to carry out a regrading exercise.
In the letter, the signatories state: "It is inconceivable that two cohorts of students enrolled for the same course in the same academic year who have undertaken the same work and invested the same effort and who will be competing in future for the same opportunities should be subjected to such radically different standards of assessment and award."
The signatories also claim that the action was discriminatory, in that its effect was greater on disadvantaged and ethnic-minority pupils who had to work harder to achieve a C-grade pass.
Two of the big three exam boards –the AQA and Edexcel – are also named in the action.
Ofqual ruled that the June marking had been correct and the January marks were "too generous" after adopting a policy of "comparative outcomes" towards this summer's exams. Under this, pass rates and grade boundaries should be "roughly" the same as last year, the regulator ruled.