Gove denies political interference in GCSEs


Michael Gove: Grade boundary decisions "made by exam boards entirely free from any political pressure"

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Education Secretary Michael Gove denied political interference in this year's GCSE results, as A*-C grades fell for the first time in the exam's history.

Mr Gove insisted exam boards made their own decisions about where to set grade boundaries, amid claims of last minute changes to English GCSE boundaries.

Head teachers are angry at a drop in the number of pupils who achieved at least a grade C in their English GCSE.

The row broke out as about 658,000 16-year-olds received their results.

Across all subjects, the proportion of GCSE entries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland awarded at least a C has fallen for the first time since the exams replaced O-levels in 1988.

This year's results, published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), show 69.4% of all subject entries earned grades A*-C, compared with 69.8% last year.

Pupils receiving A* and A grades were down from 23.2% last year to 22.4%.

English results

But it was the grades awarded in English that appear to have caused the most upset, with teachers saying this summer's papers were marked too harshly.

GCSE results since 1988

Individual schools have reported unprecedented numbers of pupils failing to get a grade C or above.

In GCSE English, 63.9% of entries got at least a grade C, compared to 65.4% last summer. Some 15% were awarded an A or A*, down from 16.8% in 2011.

In English literature, 76.3% of exams were awarded A*-C, compared to 78.4% last year, and 23.2% got at least an A, against 25% in 2011.

Mr Gove told the BBC that exam boards, in conversation with England's exams regulator Ofqual, were ensuring that new style exams, sat for the first time this year, were comparable with those in previous years.

But he stressed: "The decision about where to set grade boundaries is made by exam boards.

The results in numbers

69.4% of entries earned grades A*- C
It's a drop of 0.4 percentage points on 2011

English lit A*- C grades fell significantly

So did A*- C grades in science...

Overall, girls beat boys A*- C

Change in take up since 2011
  • Science 36.5%
  • German 5.5%
  • Spanish 10.0%
  • French 0.5%

"If you take English, then yes the number of As and A*s has fallen but the number of Bs has increased. The number of Cs has fallen and the number of Ds has increased.

"And that is the result of the independent judgements made by exam boards entirely free from any political pressure."

He said he had not been expecting a fall in grades, adding that these new GCSEs in maths, English and ICT, had been brought in by the previous Labour government.

Autumn reforms

Mr Gove, who has spoken of a possible return to more rigorous exams based on the old O-level, said the government would bring forward proposals for the reform of GCSEs to the autumn.

"We want to change them, to improve them."

Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said it was important to understand why results had fallen.

"Is it because of pressure from Ofqual to shift grade boundaries?

"Serious concerns have been raised regarding the English GCSE in some quarters. As well as ensuring standards remain rigorous, we must ensure all pupils are treated consistently and fairly.

"Michael Gove and his education ministers must explain what has happened."

C/D borderline

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School College Leaders, said the English results must be looked into, saying it was "morally wrong to manipulate exam grades in this way".

Start Quote

I felt no pressure to do anything different to what we have always done”

End Quote Andrew Hall AQA

He said: "The big issue, schools are telling us, is at the C/D borderline in English.

"What appears to have happened is that, halfway through the year, it was decided that too many students were going to get a C grade in English and the grade boundaries of the exam were pushed up very substantially.

"Students who were working at a C level throughout the year, who were told on their assessments that they were in line for a C, have found out today that this is worth a D."

It has also emerged that the Welsh government had concerns about how some English GCSEs were being assessed.

Welsh Education Minister Mr Andrews said: "We had concerns about the methodology being used by Ofqual in relation to English Language GCSE, and my officials raised these with Ofqual two weeks ago.

"There will be further meetings with Ofqual on this in the autumn."

Grades 'comparable'

But the exams boards insisted this year's grades were comparable to any other and that examiners were "comfortable" with the grades awarded.

Mr Andrews later said he believed the exam system was being "politicised" in England - and that exam boards had been pressured to mark more harshly.

"When Michael Gove says jump, the head of (exam regulator) Ofqual says 'how high'," he said.

"We need to look at the integrity of the Welsh system and whether we can have confidence in the Welsh system if political decisions in London are going to undermine performance in Wales."

And Cllr Nickie Aiken, Westminster City Council cabinet member for children, young people and community protection said "it appears the goal posts have been moved for a particular group of children halfway through their two-year exam and study period, which is simply not fair."

AQA chief executive Andrew Hall said: "I can certainly say I felt no pressure to do anything different to what we have always done," he said.

In an attempt to address concerns of "dumbing down" and ensure results were comparable, England's exams regulator, Ofqual, told exam boards they would have to justify any results notably different to those of previous years.

This year a number of new GCSE syllabuses, including English, mathematics and ICT, are being assessed for the first time. So extra measures have been taken to ensure grades are comparable.

The system known as "comparable outcomes" - which focuses on the proportion of students achieving each grade - sparked accusations that the exam boards were being asked to fix results.

In Northern Ireland, students bucked the national trend of falling GCSE grades and instead saw a slight improvement in their results.

A* to C grades went up by a small margin to 75.6%.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I hate Michael Gove. Ruining our education sector one day at a time

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Surely the purpose of exams is to differentiate between people of different ability. If 98% of people pass then what is there use? Regardless of whether they are easier or harder than the previous year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    You mean they have stopped giving away A grades with the corn flakes? How absolutely dreadful!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    The trouble with exams is that so much depends on technique. Exams are not easier nor are standards higher, it is exam techniques that have been improved. Students are better prepared to sit exams in a way that gets the highest mark possible. Assessing a whole years work in a couple of hours is what is really flawed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    They have been dumbed down since the 70's - but you cannot just alter the markings, on a whim.

    It needs to start with this year's intake, and improve the education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Most of the people in my class were predicted A* in the Eng 1H exam yet we've ended up with Bs and Cs. Eveyone was getting A*s in practice papers, we all expected A* but seemingly did a lot worse. I feel cheated that a person a year older than me will now be better at English than me "on paper" simply because they took the exam sooner. Employers may as well ignore GCSE results on CVs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I am sorry but I just don't believe a word this Government say be it Health The Economy, Education or anything

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Come on now, it's simply not fair that everyone who sat an exam did not get at least an "A" grade as a bare minimum.

    Not awarding everyone an "A" grade is belittling their achievements and hard work, and that is just not on.

    Or maybe we are seeing the end of "prizes of all" and "You're all winners !" ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Tory MP' and their cheerleaders at the Daily Mail routinely bemoan the dumbing down of examinations,in state schools, despite having little or no experience of actually attending a state school.

    So when the exam authorities act and make the exams harder and the number achieving the highest grades falls then they moan about that instead.

    Mr Gove wishes to return to writing off 50% of kids at 11.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Targets have forced schools into playing the module game.This has undermined the integrity and quality of education turning it into a game of many parts in which everyone is supposed to win.

    You cannot have an education system without clarity and rigour in its assessment. All this perpetual measurement has achieved is to turn education into schooling to the common detriment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    We can all rest easy, in the knowledge that M.Gove has his capable hands on the rudder.

    A man I wouldn't leave in charge of white mice.......let alone an education system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    I’d say changing the grade boundary for GCSE English, half way through the school year, as too many children had been predicted a C was political interference.

    The truth is, private schools pass rates, rise and rise and rise – it’s just the same grade inflation.

    However, Conservatives think that if you pay £20’000 for elite schooling, you deserve all the advantages you can get

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    You can always tell when Gove is lying, when he speaks his lips move...

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Surely it is time to stop being obsessed with exam results and have a policy to enable every young person to have a career whether their talents lie in the academic, practical, skilled or unskilled field.

    We cannot go on targeting purely academic achievement alone when there are so many other skills required to have a balanced workforce.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    It strikes me that if Gove had interfered he would have bragged about it. To do so would suit his agenda and curry favour with the Tory Right.

    Ergo I think he's telling the truth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    The basic fact is that grades pass levels ARE too low. It should be 85% or more for an A and 95% for A* - NOT 60% as in some subjects!

    The change in grading exposes how teachers have been working at too low a level. THEIR fault, not the fault of Gove.

    The teachers have been caught out and are trying to blame everyone else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    This shows that comparing results against previous years is ajin to comparing apples with oranges. The only valid comparison is between results in the same exams.

    Well done to all pupils whatever your results.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Targets don't mean squat. Teachers teach pupils to pass, any understanding seems to be luck more than anything these days. I say this as a small business employer who has witnessed first hand young people with excellent grades in maths etc unable to express 0.5 as a fraction or think a tiger is a female lion (yes, seriously).

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    @22 sounds all too familiar. There was chaos when they decided to shuffle things back in the 80's too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Today's GCSE results are just the latest idiotic social experiment, designed to reverse the last idiotic social experiment created by politicians. Spare a thought for the poor kids caught up in this; my own 16 year old daughter is just one of thousands of victims of this mindless meddling. I don't know how you sleep at night, Mr Gove.


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