Gove admits GCSE pupils treated unfairly in grades row


Stephen Twigg quoted a report by Michael Gove when in opposition, calling for ministers to be "held accountable when the regime fails"

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Education Secretary Michael Gove has refused to intervene in the row of GCSE English grades, despite admitting pupils have been treated unfairly.

He told MPs it was up to England's exams regulator Ofqual to uphold standards and oversee marking and grades.

Schools have threatened legal action after grade boundaries were moved dramatically part way through the year.

Labour's Stephen Twigg said it was "rough justice".

Mr Gove had been called to explain to MPs exactly what happened in this year's exams sat by pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Start Quote

Why is it right to change the way GCSE exam results are marked half way through the academic year?”

End Quote Phil Wilson MP for Sedgefield

But he told the Commons it was not his place to get involved with decisions about marking and exam grades.

In response to a question from shadow education secretary Mr Twigg, he said: "If ministers were to interfere in Ofqual's decisions they would be meddling where they should not interfere."

It was the examinations themselves that were at fault and needed to change, he stressed.

But Mr Twigg said it was "rough justice" that young people were getting a D grade in the summer that would have got a C grade if it had been submitted in January.

Labour MP Philip Wilson said if the athlete Mo Farah had won the 10,000m final at the Olympics but was then told he had to run a further 10,000m before he could claim his gold medal, "we would say it was wrong."


  • Issues with GCSE English grading emerged as results reached schools last week
  • Heads suggested the exams had been marked over-harshly after Ofqual told exam boards to keep an eye on grade inflation
  • Exam boards told reporters grade boundaries had changed significantly mid-way through the year
  • Alterations were as much as 10 marks
  • Heads complained pupils who sat GCSE English in the winter might have got a lower mark if they had sat it in the summer
  • Their unions called for an investigation and some mentioned legal action
  • Ofqual held a short inquiry but refused to order regrading

"So why is it right to change the way GCSE exam results are marked halfway through the academic year which is what has happened this year?"

'Grade inflation'

Earlier the education secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "My heart goes out to those students who sat the exam this year because I don't think the exam was designed in the most appropriate way.

"Everyone who sat the exam was treated in a way that either wasn't fair or appropriate."

But politicians could not act as "chief examiner", he added.

He said the structure of the exam itself had been "unfair and inappropriate" and he was planning to reform GCSEs in England as soon as possible.

The exam in question was modular in nature, with pupils sitting chunks of the syllabus, throughout the year.

It also featured new controlled assessments, overseen by teachers in class, which were introduced to address concerns about GCSE coursework. These assessments appear to be at the heart of the change in grade boundaries in English GCSEs sat this year.

Mr Gove has already set in place reforms to England's GCSE that prevent repeated retakes of parts of the qualifications. Pupils will begin these new courses this autumn and sit exams in 2014.


And he has said he intends to return to what he describes as a more rigorous an O-level style qualification, promising more details later in the autumn.

However, under his reforms the majority of pupils would sit a single examination rather than being split into those taking lower valued CSEs and more academic O-levels.

"What we need to do is have an examination which has all the rigour of the old O-level but it's sat by the majority of students," he added.

He added the new qualification would be so rigorous "nobody could imagine there has been any grade inflation or deflation".

But general secretary of the National Union of Teachers Christine Blower said Mr Gove had to accept the situation was "utterly unfair and unacceptable".

"Now is not the time to stand on the sidelines debating the value or otherwise of GCSEs.

"There needs to be an independent inquiry into how pupils who would have achieved a C grade in January, got a D in June.

"There also needs to be an immediate regrading not re-marking of this year's English exams."

She added that if Mr Gove did not intervene, legal action could be the only course of redress left open to schools.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    For YEARS teachers have denied reality in relation to exam results. Even a smattering of statistical reality should know that constantly rising grades over so many years cannot have been real. It is wrong to move the goalposts mid year. Other areas of education suffer this kind of incompetence much more frequently.DfE is unfit for purpose and the organisations managing education finance? Just poor

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    OMG I have many bones to pick with this subjhect in general.

    We shouldnt return to O-Levels, we should keep GCSEs but improve them, dont return to an obselete and limited set of grading! This angers me that they want to move back to O-Levels.

    I am an student who sat my GCSEs this year and I have got good grades but the change midway through the year shouldnt have occurred and they need to fix.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    Mr Gove is the Secretary of State for Education.
    He has confirmed that his view is that children have been treated unfairly.
    But he states he can and will do nothing!!
    Can any minister every have had such a poor grasp of his duties?
    He can wipe out parents' wishes not to become an academy with his mighty ministerial pen....but his pen's power can't right an injustice he acknowledges.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    The whole system fell appart when O levels were incorperated into the CSE system. The at was when the system was debased. Everything that has happened sinch has just been window dressing.

    The Labour prty spent pleanty of time meddling with the exam system as well as the university system by removing the polytechnics so now a university degree is worth nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    Tim (173) - it's not the exam that went wrong it's the controlled assessment. Students do coursework tasks set by the board spread out over the course, teachers mark them and then send them off for moderation (if the teachers marks are wrong then the marks are changed).

    Work can be sent off in Jan or June - it's only an admin issue. Except this year work with identical marks got different grades.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    168 siz1000

    I took my O and A Levels over forty years ago. I distinctly remember the teachers, especially for A level, spending a lot of time on question prediction and with some success. We certainly focused on those predicted areas. In history A level I had three well prepared answers ... they all came up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    186. Big John the Red
    Agree with you about getting the manual out when it comes to repairing/setting up or using something. But manuals only tell you what the answer is, not how to understand how to get to the answer.
    I can set up and watch a TV, but it's nice to know how transmissions get from around the world to the screen in my front room.
    But most manuals don't tell you how to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    The problem here is that students of an equal standard were judged more harshly in June than in January with no change in the assessment criteria or specification. The wider debate about education is irrelevant to these students at the moment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Dear Carse

    No, we just want students to be treated FAIRLY and equally. Is that asking too much?

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    In those halcyon days when exams were harder and grades lower, lots of people left school with NO qualifications and few prospects, even with near full employment. Based on 11+ , only top 10-12% went to Grammar schools, the rest to Sec Mods. CSEs were for those not able to take O levels. Opportunities for most (not all) denied before they had a chance. Do we REALLY want to return to those days?

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    As a parent with a 16 year old who has just had the results, I object to the finish line being changed half way through a single year. 50+% of young people in this year group got a bad deal. In case you think this is sour grapes, my 16 year old got an A* in English.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Funny, distribution worked, it forces up standards as you cannot rely on 'banker' questions. A consistent standard leads to teaching to the test.
    Exams are there to select people on academic ability, not give everyone a rosy feel about their passes.
    BTW academic ability is not a dirty word and should be encouraged, not frowned upon!

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Our educational system is now very good at teaching children how to pass the next lot of exams; we no longer educate! This is a national scandal!

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    The tinkering that has gone on with the exam system in the past 20 odd yrs. has left us with an all win situation with pupils being given easier options to make up the number of exams taken and to make the pass rates for the school look better, that is where the system has let the pupils down, the continued grading of schools by their exam records does not say how good a school really is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Dear all, have it your own way, keep borrowing money, keep record numbers at University with no skills on departure, keep your hatred of the Church, of the Conservatives, of The House Of Lords, keep your international students who are illegals, keep your denial of history, but do not expect to keep your memory as you are fading into the past. The best revenge is your destruction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    Pontius Pilate...when it suits, of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    I can see the point about the goalposts changing halfway through the school year. But, what I'm curious to know is whether teachers (and pupils) put any extra effort in between January and June to try and get an even better grade than predicted. What are the statistics for pupils who actually worked harder and ended up getting the same grade?

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    You could argue that education is responsible for the state this country is in.
    I think we can all recount tales of fast tracking those with university degrees into senior positions into many, many professions.
    You cannot argue that they know how to do the job by the book, but the book doesn't always get the job done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Was going to give Gove a grade E but I have moved the goalposts in the past 10 minutes and now award him an F.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Wow, some strong views on here.
    To those wanting a return to 5% of candidates get an A, 10% a B etc (undoubtedly useful for universities differentiating between applicants in a given year) could someone please volunteer to produce a table of some kind which allows employers to know whether a 2011 B or 2013 D is better?


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