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Head to fight 'tooth and claw' after parents vow to sue over A-levels

A private school has vowed to "fight tooth and claw" to defend its reputation after a parent threatened to sue over his son's failure to get straight As at A-level.

David Webster narrowly missed out on a place to study maths at University College London after his geography coursework was unexpectedly graded E, dragging his overall mark down to B.

His father, academic Roger Webster, claims #163;11,000-a-year Silcoates School in West Yorkshire breached its contractual duty by failing to guide his son properly. He blames the school because the exam board, OCR, said David's coursework did not meet its published criteria.

All six pupils in David's geography class got lower than expected marks for their "personal investigative study" unit, and despite two appeals all scripts came back unchanged.

Darryl Wideman, headmaster of Silcoates, said the teaching had been "excellent", as shown by high scores in other modules, and suggested the exam board may have unfairly adjusted coursework papers down.

"The father wants to blame somebody and he blames us," Mr Wideman told The TES. "We categorically refute that. David was properly supported by his geography teacher and given good advice. We sent the coursework off and were hopeful of a high mark. We acted entirely in good faith.

"We have always maintained the exam board moved the goal posts. I'm told it's a practice in some exam boards to downgrade coursework so there aren't too many As. If he (Dr Webster) has a dispute perhaps he should pursue the exam board."

David Webster, 20, who also got As in maths and further maths, is now reading natural sciences at Durham University. His father, a tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, has spent thousands of pounds on legal fees attempting to force Silcoates to accept it was at fault.

The dispute has reached an impasse after two years of correspondence and Dr Webster said his solicitors were now taking advice about the possibility of court action. "This is not about money," he said. "I just want the school to acknowledge they got it wrong.

"David's lasting memory of that school is how they let him down at the time he needed them and it's difficult to get him to realise he had a good 11 years there. We need closure so we can move on. I'm sure it will come to a conclusion eventually."

Mr Wideman said: "I feel sorry for the lad, but equally I've also got my school's reputation to defend. If the father decides to sue we will fight it tooth and claw because we know we didn't do anything wrong."

A spokesman for OCR said: "Although we have sympathy with Dr Webster and his son, OCR is certain that all students in that year received the grades they deserved. The exam board regulator's annual report on the exam session confirmed this."

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