GCSE teens 'robbed of grades' says 'superhead'

Sheridan Sidlow and his father Mark check GCSE English grade Leeds teenager Sheridan Sidlow and his dad Mark check the English grade they say is 'unfair'

For sixteen-year-old Sheridan Sidlow the summer of 2012 had been looking good.

The Leeds teenager had been offered a two-year apprenticeship as a technician with the National Health Service to start in September.

Sheridan himself admits he has never been amongst the most academically gifted students.

But both he and his teachers were confident that he could achieve the marks in his GCSE examinations to qualify for the college course that was an essential part of the apprenticeship.

He got all the marks he needed in his crucial Science, Mathematics and English exams but his dream was still shattered.

With no warning the examination board AQA decided to increase the level of marks it required when it awarded grades for its GCSE in English.

His "C" became a "D" and his offer of an apprenticeship was withdrawn.

'Unfair' grades?

"I feel angry," he told me as he sat alongside his worried dad Mark at their home in the Middleton district of Leeds.

"I got the marks but then they changed the grading. It's unfair."

Sheridan is not the only one holding that view.

"Students deserve to get the grade that they've earned," says John Townsley, the tough talking head of two West Yorkshire academies.

'Superhead' John Townsley Yorkshire 'superhead' John Townsley says students deserve to get the grades they earned

He believes AQA awarded too many "A" to "C" grades when some students from the same age group chose to take their GCSE English exams earlier than their classmates in January.

As a result those sitting the papers in the summer had to get higher marks to gain the same grades.

"We believe that they have been robbed of that opportunity through the maladministration and unprofessionalism of one of the key awarding bodies," he told me.

John Townsley's angry analysis of this GCSE fiasco must have echoed around the corridors of the Department of Education 200 miles away in Whitehall.

But so far Secretary of State Michael Gove has not commented.

In the past the Education Secretary has been quick to use John Townsley as an example of a "superhead" whose leadership can dramatically improve state schools.

Now Leeds City Council has joined head teachers and teaching unions to discuss taking legal action.

That view is spreading.

North Yorkshire County Council issued a statement saying there was "something wrong" with the GCSE English results this year.

National standards

The official watchdog Ofqual, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, has launched an investigation.

Start Quote

Pupils in exam hall

Our boundaries changed by between 0 and 3 marks in order to maintain national standards”

End Quote AQA Response to the grades debate

On its website AQA, no stranger to controversy, insists it was not the only examination board to raise the marks required for GCSE English grades this summer.

"Our boundaries changed by between 0 and 3 marks in order to maintain national standards," it states.

AQA points out that across the country the proportion of the 280,000 or so gaining a grade "C" or above fell slightly from 64.8% to 63.7%.

It is a statistic that has put a shadow on young Sheridan Sidlow's working life before it has even started.

All this at a time when there has been a worrying increase of young people Not in Education Employment or Training - the so called, NEETS.

The August figure for the Yorkshire and Humber Region issued by the DHSS shows a record 138,000, almost a fifth of all under 24 year olds, are now in this position.

Len Tingle Article written by Len Tingle Len Tingle Political editor, Yorkshire

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  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    For too long, exam boards have been giving out A and A* grades like confetti. This had to change! It was making a mockery of the whole system. After all, if nobody fails, what does a pass even mean?

    The real disservice was done, not by awarding grades more fairly; but by allowing pupils to coast through their exams, making less than their best effort.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Ofqual made mistakes too lenient in January too strict in June.

    Labour then the coalition made mistakes due to constant political interference especially pressure applied by Gove albeit indirectly.

    The pupils are the ones losing out, teachers and Heads are rightly miffed.

    Why not use the January boundaries just this once, regrade, then start afresh with a fair playing field next academic year?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The altering of grade boundaries by 0-3 marks refers only to controlled assessments (essentially coursework), which by definition are the exact same tasks for those submitting in January and June. How it can be justified to alter grade boundaries in this case is beyond me.

    More importantly, the exam grade boundaries were altered by as much as 10 marks!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I believe that there is a problem with grade inflation... however, we should not raise the grade boundaries when students are still being judged on the same criteria as those the year before them. I also felt that the marking for A-level papers this year was particularly harsh. My history coursework went down 8% in moderation and a girl in my class (a C-grade pupil) got a U in a Classics paper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    29th August 2012 - 18:40 "

    Your daughter's Spanish exam marking wasn't altered halfway through the way. The English exams were altered, unfairly and quantifiably affecting the grades. Perhaps some of those that got Ds deserved to get Ds but others only got D because someone decided they had to to keep to Michael Gove's artificial grades threshold. That's why they complain.


Comments 5 of 11



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