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Notes on a similar scandal: the 2002 A-level fiasco

Ofqual has important questions to answer about its role in the English GCSE fiasco, according to the man who led the official inquiry into the country's last major exam grading scandal. Sir Mike Tomlinson (pictured) scrutinised the actions of the former Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) when he reported on the A-level grading controversy of 2002 and believes the same should now happen with its successor exams regulator.

The ex-chief schools inspector said that Ofqual, which published its own report last Friday, has left "a whole series of questions" unanswered. "It is always a problem if the body that investigates the issue might have played a part in creating the issue," he said.

"The question that has not been answered that was key in the A-level inquiry is: 'What advice and guidance did the regulator give the exam boards?'," he continued. "I can't believe they gave none. And to what extent was that advice influential in the grade boundary decisions?"

The questions came as a former principal GCSE English examiner for AQA, the exam board at the centre of the controversy, claimed that his recommendations on grade boundaries on an earlier qualification had been "routinely ignored".

Sir Mike said the A-level scandal - which led to the sacking of QCA chairman Sir William Stubbs and contributed to the resignation of Estelle Morris as education secretary - was "very similar" to this year's controversy. Both were triggered by schools being presented with unexpectedly low grades for new modular exams, which had at one point threatened serious grade inflation.

Sir Mike said that Ofqual - which insists June's English GCSE grades are correct - now has to explain what it did in January when it has admitted that grade boundaries were "too generous". "If the regulator was right (with grade boundaries) in summer, where were they in January?" he asked.

He said another crucial question was what chief examiners' views were on any advice or guidance handed down from Ofqual about setting the summer grade boundaries for English GCSEs. "They would be the same chief examiners that operated in January," he said. "Were they happy with and willing to go along with the guidance?"

John Nield, a principal examiner for the previous English GCSE who left AQA in February, claimed that senior examiners at the board had regularly had their grade boundary judgements disregarded in recent years.

"My own recommendations, when I was a principal examiner, were routinely ignored in the past two or three years," he wrote in an open letter to Ofqual chief regulator Glenys Stacey.

An AQA spokesperson said Mr Nield was entitled to his opinion. "Without more details we can't comment on why he feels some of his contributions were not accepted by his examiner colleagues," she added.

For more stories on the GCSE grading controversy, go to bit.lyRtjxkw.

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