Review of GCSE grading system after reports of discrepancies

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The Independent Online

Research commissioned by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) is understood to have indicated wide-spread variations in the awarding of C and D grades in modern languages. Teachers had claimed that borderline candidates had been unfairly marked down by some exam boards. Figures show that the Oxford and Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts board (OCR board) had significantly higher number of C grade passes than the other two, Edexcel and the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA).

But officials at the QCA said this could be because OCR has more candidates at independent and selective schools.

The move, as 600,000 16-year-olds await their GCSE results next Thursday, will increase pressure on ministers to move towards just one exam board for the whole country, something they have always resisted, claiming it would reduce choice. Whether a pupils gets a C or a D grade can make all the difference to schools and students. Employers see anything below a C grade (the equivalent of an O-level pass) as a failure and schools are ranked in exam league tables on the percentage of pupils that obtain A* to C grade passes.

A spokesman for the QCA said it was discussing the findings of the research with the three awarding bodies. He added that its findings had been "valuable in ensuring comparability this year".

The discrepancies are understood to have referred to results over the past two years. Last year, 440,118 pupils sat French and German at GCSE. The QCA said it had commissioned two reports analysing the standards set by the three boards for modern foreign languages. A separate study had been set in motion to look at GCSE French. But it will not disclose the findings before a major review to be published in 2006, which will also look at the results of this year's exams.

The review is the first evidence of any discrepancy in marking since the A-level fiasco of 2002. Then, an inquiry by former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson, found the exam boards did not have enough information on marking standards for the new sixth-form curriculum of AS-level and A-level exams introduced in 2000. As a result of his inquiry, 2,000 candidates had A-level results upgraded.

The spokesman for the QCA said it was working "to ensure comparability across awarding bodies, across time, across different languages and between different subjects".

Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, has praised the "truly inspirational" care provided by Britain;s childminders and child care centres. Inspectors rated nearly 105,000 nurseries, children's centres and childminders in the past year. About 92 per cent of nursery education was said to be "high quality".