Heads tell MPs exam watchdog 'failed' in GCSE grades


Ofqual's Glenys Stacey: "There has been no political interference."

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Head teachers' leader Brian Lightman has told MPs that there have been "major flaws" and unfairnesses in this year's GCSE English grades.

The Education Select Committee is investigating claims that grades have been manipulated downwards.

Ahead of the hearing, leaked letters showed that exams watchdog Ofqual had ordered the exam board Edexcel to make changes in its grade boundaries.

But Ofqual head Glenys Stacey told MPs: "We played our proper part."

In a further challenge, the education minister in Wales has called for urgent talks over the "injustice" of grades, raising the prospect that pupils in Wales could have their GCSE results raised while their English counterparts would have a lower grade for the same standard of work.

However Ms Stacey told MPs there had been concerns that pupils in Wales were performing at a lower level than in England - and that this had caused difficulties in setting common grades with the WJEC exam board in Wales.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg is also writing to Education Secretary Michael Gove to call for the release of all correspondence between Ofqual and his department over GCSE marking - and for the release of correspondence between Ofqual and other exam boards.

But Ms Stacey assured the select committee that there had been no "political interference".


The exam regulator defended Ofqual's role in ensuring that the grades awarded for exams accurately reflected the level of achievement.


  • Ofqual monitors exams in England and vocational qualifications in Northern Ireland
  • Its role is to ensure standards are maintained and candidates' qualifications are correctly valued
  • It is an independent body. While critics have questioned whether the watchdog is subject to pressure from politicians, chief executive Glenys Stacey told MPs there had been no political interference in this year's GCSE row
  • The watchdog stands accused of putting exam boards under pressure to raise grade boundaries in this year's English GCSE
  • Ofqual launched its own inquiry into the English GCSE debacle and concluded the grades awarded in June were correct and assessments marked in January 2012 were "graded generously"
  • The Welsh government is pressing for Welsh students to have their results regraded, a move which would effectively undermine Ofqual's conclusions

She said there had been many "significant unknowns" in changes to modules of the GCSE English exam, which had to be resolved in the final awarding of grades.

But committee chair Graham Stuart said that MPs were "struggling to understand" why the problems had not been identified from the January results.

The exam regulator has faced strong criticism from school leaders over this year's GCSE English grades.

Overall English GCSE results at grade C and above were down by 1.5 percentage points this year.

Mr Lightman, leader of the Association of School and College Leaders, told MPs that he believed that the exam grades for pupils taking the English GCSE in the summer had been been forced downwards in an attempt to balance an "over-generous" marking in January - in a way that was unfair for individual students.

He also argued that this made it impossible to argue that the exam had used a common standard, when different levels of rigour were applied in different parts of the year.

Mike Griffiths, head of Northampton School for Boys, told the select committee that "Ofqual failed to maintain standards".

He told MPs that in his school his English results had fallen by 17% - when in previous years there had only been a small variation in these results.

It meant that for those pupils who had missed out their "hopes and aspirations had been shattered".

Mr Griffiths said that "you could play games with statistics", but in many schools "students in great numbers have been downgraded".

Pupils who were given a D grade rather than the expected C grade could mean that difference between staying on at school or dropping out and becoming a Neet, said Kenny Fredericks, head of George Green's School in east London.

January 'leniency'

Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers told MPs the regulator's efforts for a "comparable outcome" had failed - and called for an independent inquiry, saying that Ofqual could not investigate itself.

Head teachers, teachers' leaders and pupils have complained that those who sat the exam in January this year were treated more leniently than those who sat it in June.

Ofqual says that the June grade boundaries were set at the right level, but has acknowledged there was a problem with the January boundaries. It refused to order exam boards to regrade this year's exams.


  • Issues with GCSE English grading emerged as results reached schools last month
  • 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 had they 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

Before the committee took evidence, the Times Educational Supplement published letters revealing the pressure put on one of England's largest exam boards, Edexcel to change its grade boundaries.

The letters show that once all GCSE papers were marked, a significantly larger number of candidates than expected - some 8% more - had achieved a grade C.

Ofqual's director of standards and research, Dennis Opposs, wrote to Edexcel urging examiners to act quickly and produce results that were "closer to the predictions".

"This may require you to move grade boundary marks further than might normally be required," he wrote.

Edexcel initially rejected this, but subsequently complied.

Ms Stacey told MPs that if the exam board had not complied she would have used her powers to force them.


After the publication of the letters, Edexcel said: "Where the grade boundaries were positioned for GCSE English was clearly a matter of extensive discussion this year between exam boards and the regulator.

"As this correspondence shows, Edexcel made certain reservations clear to Ofqual, in the interests of maintaining standards. Our final award, which we believe was fair to all learners, followed specific requests from Ofqual to help them to do that on a national basis across all exam boards."

An Ofqual spokesman said: "We have made it clear that where exam boards propose results that differ significantly from expectations, we will challenge them and intervene where necessary to make sure standards are correct.

"This is exactly the job Parliament intended the independent regulator to do when it set us up".

A former Ofqual board member, John Townsley, now an academy principal, said this had been a "disgraceful episode" and called on Ms Stacey to resign.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    Well Headteachers would say that: after basking in the light of a generation of dumbed down educational standards dressed up by Blair and Brown as great strides towards social mobility; whilst quietly creating a generation of 'highly' qualified unemployed graduates and huge levels of deficit in the education budget! What was youth unemployment under Brown again...oh yes 950,000 young people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    474.Old Man of Sussex
    ... retaken his GCSE again as he got a D last year ... Again he has received a D solely because they have changed the marking boundries. If it were comparable to January he would just miss out on a B.
    Like it or not, 'D' is his level. The January results were admitted to have been too easily marked. Still a 'D' after an extra year? Time for some serious thinking!

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    We need to have a teaching system where teachers teach competition is good for you and Heads doin't attempt to fiddle the marking system to enhance their own salaries.

    No wonder our state system is failing our young people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    My son was able to take 3 exams early and was predicted A in all subjects, He got B C D thanks now we have a very dispondant teenager

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    "he has received a D solely because they have changed the marking boundries. If it were comparable to January he would just miss out on a B"

    Sorry, I dont think he received a D solely because they changed the boundary, its because the work was of D grade & they didnt mess up again

    It is not fair, particularly if anyone encounters anyone who got a grade in January and think thats the standard

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    What is truly pathetic is that everyone wants to win, no one can lose, no one can fall by the way side. I am sorry but this world just "ain't" big enough for everyone to be a winner. Did the Olympics teach us NOTHING?!? Look at 100 metre sprint athletes thousands of hours of hard, painful, tough training for around 10 seconds worth of running, and if you don't place 1-3 you get NOTHING! It's life

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    As an employer i am concerned when i recieve CVs written as if sending a text. What are they teaching these kids in school. I have no confidence in any exam results. Schools need to address real world issues not look at performance figures for teachers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    470.Jack Napier

    So you need sales of 500K to hit your bonus target and when going to your manager they say "Oh, didn't we tell you you needed 600K sales? We changed it but didn't tell you. Never mind try harder next year"

    Really, come on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    I suspect you may be poor. Poor boy never stood a chance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    @469 Does getting +1 fulfil your ego? or do you feel the necessity to provide the same information several other people posted in the last 50 comments or so.... #Bandwagon

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    'I done the C grade work and to be starting to do all the work again fills like the system has stolen from me.'
    if that is the standard of english required for a C grade, then getting an A* should be easy

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    "Heads tell MPs exam watchdog 'failed' in GCSE grades"...really?

    I'm more inclined to go for:

    "Watchdog tells MPs exam Heads 'failed' in GCSE grades"

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    As nobody here is speaking from experience my child is one of those affected.

    He has retaken his GCSE again as he got a D last year and decided to go through the complete course again in a year. Again he has received a D solely because they have changed the marking boundries. If it were comparable to January he would just miss out on a B.

    Do you think this is fair as I do not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    Changing the grading system is fine at the end of a full cycle.

    Changing the grading system just before the results marking is stupidity.

    It is akin to changing the speed limit on a motorway from 70 to 30 and expecting the drivers on the motorway at the time to pay the fines! How many of us would agree to that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    If the CBI is not happy with either the content or standard of education provided in state schools, perhaps it should advise its members to put up the money for more post 16 apprenticeships. What do they want - blood?

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    The argument is that people were misled because of a mistake

    Some complain that they were told they would get a C for their D grade work

    They should blame the department responsible, but also their teachers who if competent should be able to spot C and D grade work?

    If they had done this & raised the alarm or warned the pupils they needed to do more to be certain then this wouldnt have happened

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.


    I understand that the exam board moved the goal posts mid-academic year, in effect raising the standards.

    But surely if teachers were encouraging pupils to excel to the best of their ability, rather than scrape a particular grade, it wouldn't be such an issue.

    I honestly believe that these events raise serious doubts about the teaching methods & standards at the most affected schools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    I missed out on the C grade in both English GCSE subjects by just 1 mark in both! If I’d taken it in January I would of got 2 Cs in English. The 2 Ds for English sit next to A's and B's on my public result slip."

    You could pay for a re-mark of the paper. On the other hand, the standard of English in that post might suggest it would be futile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    So if the Welsh Education is successful, the Welsh will get free prescriptions, cheaper university fees AND better GCSE English results. But they will still be Welsh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    465.Will D
    Sorry but you totally miss the point. The focus is on the C/D boundary for obvious reasons but the downgrading will have been across all grades but dropping from an A* to an A does not hit the headlines


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