From regrading row to full-blown conspiracy

20th December 2002 at 00:00
THE A-level regrading row dominated the year's news. It was a fiasco which prompted the sacking of one of the most senior education administrators and the resignation of the Education Secretary.

For Estelle Morris, the furore, which eventually led to changes in unit grades for 10,000 students and 2,000 subject upgrades, brought sleepless nights.

The effect on university places was minimal, but the damage done to the confidence in the system has been catastrophic, with the Government asked now to accept an overhaul of examinations.

The story broke on September 13 when The TES revealed that unprecedented numbers of A-level papers had been downgraded because initial results were too high.

Schools, particularly private ones, had begun to sense something was amiss with the results in some AS and A2 units.

The Observer voiced the concerns of an unhappy student at one school two weeks before. However, the scale of the problem and why it had happened were still a mystery.

When The TES revealed the answers to these questions, an explanation which has stood up to scrutiny, the rest of the country's media grasped the story. The story developed from what had looked like a "fix" by OCR into a full-blown conspiracy, with the finger pointed at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and Ms Morris.

Edward Gould, head of Marlborough College and chairman of the Headmasters'

and Headmistresses' Conference, the organisation for leading private schools, led the "fight for justice".

As the week progressed, calls for an independent inquiry reached fever pitch until Ms Morris bowed to the pressure and appointed Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools, to head it.

A QCA investigation, which had tried to blame teachers' lack of understanding of A2, was all but forgotten or dismissed as "putting the fox in charge of the chicken coup".

The description seemed more than a good soundbite when The TES revealed that QCA chairman Sir William Stubbs had threatened the exam boards with a public inquiry if the exam results went through the roof.

Two days before the Tomlinson inquiry reported, Sir William claimed ministerial spin doctors were out to get him and launched a stinging attack, accusing Ms Morris of interfering in the inquiry.

He was sacked the next day and the inquiry report revealed the A-level furore had been an "accident waiting to happen".

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