GCSE blanket ruling delivers cruel Catch 22

11th July 1997 at 01:00
I write to draw attention to the operation of a relatively new agreement by the joint forum of awarding bodies relating to GCSE assessment and pupils who encounter some kind of unforeseen disruption to their GCSE examination programme.

For understandable reasons associated with consistency and validity in assessment practice, the joint forum has determined that all awarding bodies will require a specified minimum proportion of the assessment process to be completed before any award can be made.

Unfortunately, the specified minimum has been set at 35 per cent, regardless of subject and syllabus. In effect, this means that in, for example, some English GCSE qualifications, a student who, for whatever reason, misses an examination is unable to gain a GCSE pass in English literature, irrespective of any other evidence of achievement and attainment the school can provide in support of a plea for special consideration.

There is, ironically, one special circumstance which will allow the award of a GCSE grade in such circumstances, and it is one worthy of Catch 22. A GCSE can be awarded even if less than 35 per cent of assessment is completed provided that the student will never use the award - in other words, if the young person dies, they can have their certificate but, if they live and want to use their GCSE to progress to further and higher education, they won't get it.

Discussions with the Department for Education and Employment about this appalling blanket ruling have elicited no other response than to fall back on the independence of examination boards and the need to safeguard standards. Appeals to awarding bodies have led nowhere.

As you may guess, I am aware of at least one young person who is struggling to overcome a potentially fatal illness and has encountered this bureaucratic barrier. It does seem to me that when blanket rules hurt individuals and make recognition of effort and achievement impossible, we have to look again at the need to build in provision for exceptional circumstances.

Awarding bodies would not be overwhelmed with appeals if the joint forum acted quickly on this, but a few very deserving young people would be able to face an uncertain future with greater optimism and with a public recognition of their achievement.

MARTIN KERRISON 6 Equity Road East Earl Shilton Leicestershire

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