Exam boards deny fall in GCSE standards

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The Independent Online
THE GCSE examining boards yesterday hit back at the Government and denied that evidence showed a fall in standards in this year's exam.

The boards gave a staunch rebuff to a report by Her Majesty's Inspectors suggesting that standards may have slipped.

John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, had asked for an urgent response from the boards even before the publication of the report. Yesterday they accepted the challenge head-on, and criticised the flimsy nature of the criticism.

Dennis Hatfield, chairman of the Joint Council for the GCSE, said the HMI report 'generalises from isolated incidents and there is at least one factual error coupled with omission of associated facts. Sweeping generalised criticism made following the issue of the report was therefore on very flimsy evidence'.

At the beginning of September, HMI, in a markedly different tone from earlier reports, criticised the exam. The inspectors had 'limited confidence' in this summer's record grades. They said that 'the evidence could point to a gradual erosion of standards since the introduction of the GCSE in 1988'.

But the Joint Council, which co-ordinates the work of the examining groups, said: 'The evidence in the (inspectors') report is not sufficiently strong to ensure that that conclusion should be drawn.'

The exam boards, which met in Belfast this week, could not have been more challenging. They accused the inspectors of inaccuracy, making unsubstantiated comments, misunderstanding practice and relying on anecdotal evidence.

The Department for Education said last night that it 'regretted the tendency to quibble about the conclusions of the independent inspectorate's report. This will probably cause great surprise to the inspectorate.'