'An absolute disgrace': schools heap blame on Gove for grading fiasco

9th November 2012 at 00:00
And TES survey reveals fury over 'inept' and 'underhand' Ofqual

Nearly nine in 10 secondary schools believe education secretary Michael Gove is to blame for this summer's GCSE English grading scandal, a TES survey suggests.

At least one head has lost their job over the unexpected fall in grades, according to the poll of more than 10 per cent of England's state secondaries and leading independents. The fiasco has led to a huge loss of trust in the exams system and to 93 per cent of secondaries losing faith in Ofqual, with more than half saying they now have "no confidence" in the regulator. Some English teachers plan to leave the profession over the controversy.

Ofqual published its final report on the debacle last week. It pointed to how schools had responded to league table pressures to achieve C grades and "the complexity and design" of GCSE English. It was billed as facing up to "some difficult matters - for government, for regulation and for schools".

But the TES survey of 467 schools reveals that most believe Ofqual has already been discredited by its decision to overrule examiners' judgements and endorse results that awarded thousands of pupils lower than expected grades.

Schools described the watchdog as "underhand", "incompetent", "bullying and callous", "a Gove puppet", "disingenuous", "inept", and "a joke ... lacking a spine and integrity" in the poll, which was carried out in conjunction with heads' unions and the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference.

"They (Ofqual) refuse to take responsibility for the fiasco and hide behind their argument of maintaining standards," one school wrote. "They have a responsibility to the young people who have been penalised."

Another accused Ofqual of sacrificing pupils for "political pressure and ideological dogma". "They certainly don't represent standards in education," a school wrote.

But it is Mr Gove who most schools think was largely at fault, with one calling for him to resign over the grading. Almost nine in 10 schools believe Mr Gove is at least "partly to blame", with more than half describing him as "largely to blame". He was described by respondents as an "absolute disgrace", "morally reprehensible" for refusing to intervene in the grades, and accused of tackling grade inflation in a "politically and educationally naive manner".

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the affair had prompted a "deep crisis in confidence" about exams among teachers. "Whatever shape future qualifications take, there are enormous concerns that need to be addressed immediately."

The ASCL says that in as many as 30 per cent of secondaries, the proportion of A*-C grades in the crucial English GCSE plunged by more than 10 per cent this summer, often after years of continuous improvement.

After an almost identical A-level grading scandal 10 years ago, ministers ordered an independent inquiry that by 14 October 2002 had resulted in the regrading of nearly 10,000 papers.

This time an alliance of more than 100 schools, teaching unions, academy chains and local authorities are having to resort to a legal challenge to the grades. But it may take until at least Christmas for them to learn whether their application for a High Court judicial review has been successful.

The Commons Education Select Committee questioned Ofqual and Mr Gove on the grading in early September, but it is unlikely to hold further hearings until 19 November at the earliest.

Meanwhile, more than 45,000 pupils caught up in the row are turning to special November retakes that their teachers argue they should not have to endure.

Schools responding to the survey said the "disgraceful" affair was "worthy of a banana republic" and had "destroyed many pupils' life chances".

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said: "The summer's debacle has caused more damage to the integrity of the exams system than anything it has experienced so far. I think schools blame the government for creating a context in which this decision was made possible and for not intervening afterwards."

An Ofqual spokesman said: "We are aware of the depth of feeling around the issues with GCSE English this summer. That is why we have looked forensically at how the new English GCSEs worked."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Ofqual is responsible for maintaining exam standards over time and making sure that students get the grade they deserve. We have been clear that GCSEs are in desperate need of a thorough overhaul."


One in 10 schools said they would switch exam boards because of the grading debacle. Of those, 42 per cent said they would change to IGCSE, a move encouraged by Mr Gove.

But while the education secretary favours linear qualifications that emphasise end-of-course exams, the survey suggests that more than half of the schools switching to IGCSE will choose its coursework option.

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