Woodhead:Claims of inflated grades are serious

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The former chief inspector of schools criticised the Government for failing to take seriously allegations that GCSE results had been "fixed".

The initial claim this week was made by Jeffrey Robinson, a senior examiner with the Cambridge exam board – now the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Board (OCR) – who said grade boundaries were repeatedly lowered in the 1990s to achieve better results.

His assertions met denials from both his employers and the Government's exams watchdog, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

However, Chris Woodhead, the former head of Ofsted – the Government's education standards watchdog – said yesterday there was a "massive problem" with standards in schools that was not being addressed. He told Today on BBC Radio Four: "Jeffrey Robinson is saying publicly what a number of chief examiners have said privately in the past. I think the timing of all this is, as always, appalling, with the students just celebrating their results.

"The Government refuses to take these issues seriously. Look at their responses today. They are not engaging with the substance of what is being said. They are simply alleging that it is a slur on hard- working pupils."

Paul Sokoloff, convener of the Joint Council for National Qualifications, the umbrella body responsible for examination results, told the same programme: "I share the concern of colleagues that this is very bad timing and it is a scare story of one of the worst sorts.

"If you look at degree-level pass rates, they are going up year on year. I think it is the whole education system improving its performance."

Mr Woodhead replied: "The fact that more people are getting university degrees doesn't mean that the university degrees maintain their intellectual rigour. We've got 42 per cent more candidates achieving top grades in GCSE than we did a decade ago. The minimum marks for top grade in maths have been reduced by 25 per cent. We've got a massive problem and the Government refuses to acknowledge it."

Headteachers have demanded an immediate investigation into Mr Robinson's claims, which were made on Thursday. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "I think his allegations are outrageous and a real kick in the teeth for students and their teachers over what they have achieved. However, it is important that the examining groups do produce a report, otherwise the whole exam system will be devalued."

A spokeswoman for the QCA said it was looking into what had been said "as a matter of routine. If we saw anything that was inappropriate, then we would take action."