Leaked letters reveal Ofqual overruled 'fair' GCSE grades

14th September 2012 at 01:00
Calls for chief regulator to resign after correspondence contradicts report on exam marking

Letters seen by TES show that the exams watchdog Ofqual put pressure on the exam board Edexcel to make significant changes to GCSE English grades.

Ofqual's intervention - which contradicts a key finding from its inquiry into the marking crisis - prompted calls this week from a former Ofqual board member, John Townsley, for chief regulator Glenys Stacey to resign.

When Ofqual published its inquiry two weeks ago into June's grade boundaries, Ms Stacey said they were correct and set by examiners "using their best professional judgement, taking into account all of the evidence available to them".

But letters between Ofqual and exam board Edexcel reveal that examiners' professional judgement was actually overruled by the regulator.

The correspondence also reveals that Edexcel had serious concerns about the reliability of Ofqual's strategy of tackling grade inflation by linking results to pupils' previous performance as 11-year-olds.

Ofqual's director of standards, Dennis Opposs, wrote to Edexcel on 7 August, concerned that the board was about to award results for GCSE English that would see the proportion of pupils with grade Cs rise eight percentage points above the statistical prediction.

He called on the board to act "quickly" and "produce outcomes that are much closer to the predictions". "This may require you to move grade boundary marks further than might normally be required," he acknowledged.

Edexcel replied the following day, stating that it had taken into account "all available evidence" and considered the issues raised by Ofqual, but still felt its proposed grades were "fair".

The predictions cited by Ofqual, based on candidates' key stage 2 Sat results, "can only be, at best, an indicator of performance", the board's letter argued. There were other factors such as a change in cohort, and the modular nature of exams and it "would be negligent not to take into account as much information as possible", it added.

Edexcel sums up its case in bold type, stating: "We believe this to be compelling evidence that our award is a fair award and we do not believe a further revision of our grade boundaries is justified."

But the letter adds that if, despite its arguments, Ofqual still required a change, the board could move the minimum requirement for a C grade in one of the GCSE English units up to 65 marks out of 96 - a rise of 10 from January's 55 mark grade boundary.

Ofqual replied that it expected Edexcel to produce results that did not vary by more than 1 per cent from the prediction. "So it is not that we must ask, but that you must make sure that the grades are comparable," wrote Mr Opposs.

An Ofqual spokesman said: "When setting out our comparable outcomes approach, we have made it clear that where exam boards propose results that differ significantly from expectations, we will challenge them and intervene where necessary to make sure standards are correct."

An Edexcel spokesperson said: "As this correspondence shows, Edexcel made certain reservations clear to Ofqual, in the interests of maintaining standards. Our final award, which we believe was fair to all learners, followed specific requests from Ofqual to help them to do that on a national basis across all exam boards."

To read the leaked letters in full: bit.lyRtjxkwe


- Leighton Andrews, the Welsh education minister, has called for "urgent talks" over the grades boundaries "injustice", raising the prospect that pupils in Wales could have their results upgraded while their English counterparts would have a lower grade for the same standard of work.

- Shadow Westminster education secretary Stephen Twigg has urged education secretary Michael Gove to release all correspondence between Ofqual and his department over GCSE marking and to call for the release of correspondence between Ofqual and other exam boards.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today