No regrading in English exam scandal

15th February 2013 at 00:00
High Court rules that Ofqual and exam bodies acted within the law

Thousands of pupils caught up in the GCSE English grading scandal will not be offered regrading it was revealed this week, as the High Court rejected a legal challenge to the results.

An alliance of pupils, schools, teaching unions and local authorities had argued that the dramatic increase in grade boundaries between January and June last year was a "statistical fix" that amounted to an "abuse of power" by exams regulator Ofqual and the Edexcel and AQA exam boards.

But the court ruled that they acted within the law. There had been "unfairness", it said, but it is "the structure of the qualification itself which is the source of such unfairness... and not any unlawful action by either Ofqual or the awarding bodies".

The boards were pleased but said there were lessons to learn. Ofqual chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: "We welcome the decision of the court that, faced with a difficult situation, Ofqual did the right thing and the fairest thing, for the right reasons. If we had followed the course of action called for by the claimants, the value of GCSE English would have been 'debased'."

The alliance took the action as the only available means of redress in a controversy that involved more than 30,000 pupils whose schools argued that they had been unfairly awarded D rather than C grades. Ofqual issued two reports on the affair, but as an active participant in the grading it was not seen as impartial.

When a similar A-level grading scandal erupted in the summer of 2002 a quick independent inquiry led to nearly 10,000 papers being regraded. This time round, ministers merely pointed to the Commons Education Select Committee, which has held only one hearing on the matter and issued no reports.

So court was the only option and now, more than five months later, we have a verdict. For the pupils involved it is in any case far too late - they either resat in November or simply moved on.

The judges emphasised that they had ruled on the specific question of how Ofqual and the exam boards "sought to deal with the (grading) problems once they had materialised".

But they acknowledged that they had not tackled the problematic modular structure of the GCSE or the fact that, as TES revealed, Ofqual had anticipated those problems years in advance but failed to act.

Changes to English GCSE grading next year and the end of modular GCSEs should prevent an exact repeat of last summer's problems. But details that emerged during the affair have not been kind to Ofqual or the exam system as a whole.

The regulator's claim that last summer's grades were set by examiners "using their best professional judgment" backfired when letters leaked to TES showed that Ofqual had overruled these professional judgments. And the watchdog's later strategy of blaming overly generous teacher marking was contradicted by three of the four exam boards involved in the controversy. A nasty taste has been left in many teachers' mouths and it is likely to take more than Wednesday's verdict to wash it away.

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