Father sues over 'wrong' marks

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The Independent Online
A parent has taken his case to the High Court after an extraordinary two-year battle in which an exam board refused to change his son's GCSE grade.

Teachers at University College School, London, say that in 1994 Isaac Zekaria's son and 49 other pupils received GCSE English grades that were much too low. When they saw the scripts, they say, they were horrified by the standard of marking.

Appeals against GCSE and A-level grades are made each year, but few are so protracted. It is thought to be unprecedented for a case to reach the courts. Earlier this month, Mr Zekaria went to the High Court but failed to secure a re-marking of his son's script by an independent body. Now he is considering further action. Two years ago his son was awarded a D grade in GCSE English Literature by the Midlands Examining Group, despite getting an A for his coursework and an A* in English language.

This year his son is applying to read English at university but, because of his low GCSE grade, has not been offered a place at either of his two preferred universities. After the 1994 English Literature results arrived, the school immediately appealed against the marking, but only six minor adjustments were made. The examining group acknowledged in a letter to Giles Slaughter, the school's head, that there was "a degree of unreliable marking by the original examiner."

Mr Slaughter was so convinced the script had been unfairly marked that, last March, he took the case to the Independent Appeals Authority for School Examinations, the final arbiter of disputes over exam grades.

The authority ordered a full re-mark of the scripts, but the examining group challenged the authority's power to ask it to do more than "reconsider" the papers, and the order was relaxed.

It was not until 13 September last year that the school heard the marking review had taken place and no changes would be made.

Mr Slaughter was still not satisfied. He asked that his English teachers should see the scripts. The examining group agreed but only if the head accepted that the matter was closed and that the scripts should be used only to improve English teaching at the school. Last December, three of the school's English teachers spent two hours in the group's Birmingham office examining the scripts.

Mr Slaughter said: "When they came back, they said they were horrified. They saw scripts of a high standard which had been grossly undermarked." The teachers also complained that there was no evidence on the scripts to show that they had been re-marked.

Mr Slaughter had given a personal undertaking that he would not pursue the case. He said: "As far as the school is concerned, the matter is closed. But it is an extraordinary saga. We remain absolutely convinced that justice has not been done."

Mr Zekaria, however, was not bound by the undertaking. "If the teachers had come back after looking at the scripts and said they were satisfied, I would have dropped the case," he said. Instead, in January this year, he sought a judicial review. At the hearing this month, he asked for the scripts to be released for re-marking by an independent body.

However, the court decided that, as the examining group had accepted the recommendation of the Independent Appeals Authority, no action could be taken.

Mr Zekaria said: "I am not a vindictive person but I feel very bitter. I have not dropped the case yet. I am taking legal advice on what to do next. English is my son's best subject. He was devastated by his GCSE result."

The school's solicitors have written to the examining group asking for an undertaking that the boys' scripts will not be destroyed.