Coursework boycotted

Julie Henry reports on the reactions of those caught up in the allegations of A-level grade fixing

TEACHERS have banned students from starting A-level coursework because grade "fixing" this year has left them unable to predict the standard of the work.

And some schools could ditch syllabuses with coursework in favour of purely examined qualifications.

The TES revealed last week that unprecedented numbers of A-level papers from the OCR board were downgraded this year because initial results were much higher than last year's. Pupils from dozens of independent and state schools who received A grades in exam modules were awarded grade E or unclassified in coursework.

Staff who have taught for decades are now in turmoil after the bizarre sets of results destroyed their confidence. Teachers who predicted top grades for these pupils say they have been made to look "professionally incompetent".

They are now refusing to clear coursework options with upper sixth-formers this term until they receive a clear explanation about how such anomalies arise.

At Eaton Bank high school, Cheshire, 11 pupils were graded U in psychology A-level coursework, Teacher Ann Web said: "There is no way I am setting coursework until I am able to predict what is an A and what is a U. On the basis of this year's results I am incapable of doing that after 20 years teaching.

"I have students who are devastated by the results. We have asked for remarks but they have come back unchanged. This is clearly a systemic problem."

An independent school English teacher said: "My gut instinct on grades, boundaries and levels has been completely undermined. I had a class of seven and they got six Us and an E. None of these seems fair. How can I now say with any certainty what is what? After 15 years of teaching and never having a grade U before I now have no real idea what the board will do next."

AS-level coursework results from AQA and Edexcel have also come under fire from schools.

A pupil at Lime House private school, in Carlisle, submitted for a resit the same psychology essay that he used in his first attempt at an AQA AS-level exam. He was awarded a B grade initially and a U in the resit.

Headteacher Nigel Rice said: "It is unbelievable. The marking criteria are like a checklist and they are the same as last year."

Diana Laffin, head of history at Farnborough sixth-form college, Hampshire, said the choice of a syllabus would be reviewed after pupils received lower than expected grades in Edexcel AS history coursework.

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said:

"Teachers' whole professionalism has been undermined. They need an unequivocal explanation urgently so they can be confident they are on the right lines in the classroom."

Following the A-level reforms in 2000, most qualifications include a coursework module which usually receives better marks than the exam modules. It makes up a third of an AS or A-level.

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