A major review has been launched into GCSE grades after fresh evidence emerged of discrepancies between exam boards.
Research commissioned by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority appears to show wide variations in the way C and D grades - the threshold to a "good" pass -are set by AQA, OCR and Edexcel in modern languages. All three boards are used by schools in Wales as well as England.
It comes almost two years after teachers raised concerns that some borderline C-grade pupils were being unfairly downgraded in French and German under a new marking scheme.
Last year 440,118 pupils sat German and French. In Lancashire more than a third of secondary schools said grades were below expectations. This week the QCA said it had commissioned two reports - from AQA and the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate - analysing the standards of the three boards. A spokesman said it had also undertaken its own study into GCSE French.
But the exam watchdog would not disclose the findings of the reports and said it was working towards a full review to be released before the 2006 exams. The revelations will raise fresh concerns about the use of more than one board, just three years after an A-level marking fiasco tested public confidence in the present exam system to the limit.
Last month Paul Newton, principal assessment researcher at the QCA, called for a more "rational" approach to setting standards.
In an article in the journal Assessment in Education, he said the exam watchdog's own code of practice, introduced after the 2002 fiasco, still left areas of uncertainty for markers.
The review is the latest blow to modern languages. Entries in Wales, where the subjects have never been compulsory post-14, have fallen steadily.