Schools heap blame for grading fiasco on Gove

2nd November 2012 at 00:00
And TES survey reveals fury at `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 already lost their job because of the unexpected fall in grades, according to the poll of more than 10 per cent of England's state secondaries and leading independent schools. The fiasco has prompted a massive loss of trust in the whole exams system and resulted in 93 per cent of secondaries losing faith in Ofqual, the survey reveals, with more than half saying they now have "no confidence" in the exams regulator. Some English teachers are even planning to leave the profession over the controversy, according to the responses.

Ofqual published its final report on the debacle today, which was expected to focus on 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 the education secretary to resign over the grading. Almost nine in 10 schools believe the education secretary is at least "partly to blame", with more than half describing Mr Gove 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.

In the meantime, 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 TES 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 schools, 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 making the IGCSE switch will opt for the qualification's coursework option.


  • Complete confidence in the exams system - 0.2%
  • More confidence in the exams system - 0.2%
  • Less confidence in the exams system - 55.1%
  • No confidence in the exams system - 37.4%
  • Made no difference - 6.6%
  • Don't know - 0.5%

      • Not at all - 4.5%
      • To some extent - 29.4%
      • To a large extent - 58.4%
      • Don't know - 7.7%

          • More confidence in Ofqual - 1.6%
          • Complete confidence in Ofqual - 0.5%
          • Less confidence in Ofqual - 36.2%
          • No confidence in Ofqual - 56.8%
          • Made no difference - 4%
          • Don't know - 0.9%
            • The survey received responses from 467 individual secondary schools: 175 from heads, 77 from deputies, 75 from assistant heads, 124 from heads of English, and 16 from school exam officers.

              Photo credit: Rex

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

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,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today