Education & Family

English GCSE: Legal action launched by schools and councils

exam room
Image caption 'The decisions have prejudiced the life changes of thousands of children' states the claim

A group of head teachers and councils has launched legal action against the exam regulator Ofqual and two exam boards over June's English GCSE exam.

It has served court papers on exam boards AQA and Edexcel, detailing the case for the exams to be regraded.

The papers challenge the examiners' decision to raise the marks needed to get a C grade between January and June.

They also challenge Ofqual's refusal to reverse that decision.

A total of 150 schools, 42 English councils and six professional bodies and 167 pupils are represented by the alliance.

The group argues that changes to the grade boundaries between January and June meant that pupils with the same mark got different grades.

An estimated 10,000 students missed out on a C grade as a result of the decisions, according to the group: "despite achieving exactly the same standard as their classmates who were awarded a C grade a few months earlier".

'Prejudiced' chances

The statement of claim served in the High Court states: "The decisions have prejudiced the life chances of thousands of children. The immediate effects of the decisions include children being unable to progress in education, losing vocational opportunities and jobs and being unable to gain employment.

"The children affected by the decisions were entitled to be treated in a fair, consistent and rational manner by the defendants. They were not.

"The decisions are incompatible with the most elementary principles of fairness, rationality and good administration. They are unlawful and should be quashed."

The group argues the issue is particularly acute because of the critical importance of achieving a C grade in GCSE English for future educational and professional opportunities.

Head teacher Michael Barry, of Sir Matthew Academy in London, said: "Some of our students have missed out on the courses they wanted to do, changed their career plans completely, and may still be harshly judged in the future by colleges, universities or potential employers. This is our last chance to put this right and get the regrading we need and our students deserve."

Sir Steve Bullock, mayor of the London borough of Lewisham which is co-ordinating the legal action, said: "While it is plain to see to most reasonable people that what has happened is just not fair, Ofqual and the boards have refused the opportunity to clear up their own mess."

'One chance'

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders said: "We remain convinced that thousands of young people were unfairly downgraded in June in order to compensate for mistakes made earlier in the year. Young people only have one chance at their education and we will not give up on them."

Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers said: "It is a dreadful shame that it has come to this. The education secretary should have taken the lead from Wales and regraded this year's English GCSEs."

Labour's shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg MP said: "This exam shambles has gone on far too long. It is completely unacceptable that those representing teachers, parents and pupils have to resort to the courts to get fair GCSE grades.

"Michael Gove looks completely out of touch. The education secretary has the power to sort out this mess. But while there has been justice in Wales, pupils in England are still being punished."

An Ofqual spokeswoman said the regulator would "rigorously defend" its decisions, adding: "Our work to understand why some schools' results differed significantly from their expectations is continuing and we will report again shortly."

The two exam boards, AQA and Edexcel said they would not be making further comment.

The alliance is hoping for an early decision from the court on whether to allow a judicial review of the case which they hope could take place before the new year.

It is unlikely to happen before more than 45,000 students resit their English GCSEs next month - about one in 14 of those who took the exam in June.

Pupils from England, Wales and Northern Ireland were offered the chance to resit the papers free of charge after the row over the moving of grade boundaries.

However 2,400 Welsh pupils have already received better results after the Welsh education minister, Leighton Andrews, ordered the WJEC exam board to regrade Welsh students' papers.

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