Essex: GCSE wrangle deepens as union ‘inundated’

EXAM chiefs will start their investigation into this year’s controversial GCSE results this week - amid calls for teachers in Essex to demand urgent action from their MPs.

Thousands of students claimed they had been unfairly treated following the publication of last week’s English language results.

Exams regulator Ofqual will begin its investigation into the GCSE gradings this week amid threats of legal action from local authorities and teachers.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) reported its highest volume of calls from members affected by the furore around last week’s English language results.

General secretary Russell Hobby, who wrote to education secretary Michael Gove and the head of exam regulator Ofqual demanding urgent action, urged union members in Essex to follow suit by challenging their constituent MPs.

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An open letter calling for an independent review into this year’s GCSE results follows calls from members about the changing of grade boundaries on English GCSE papers.

The proportion of GCSE entries graded A*-C fell for the first time in the exam structure’s 24 years, resulting in some schools choosing to postpone releasing their results.

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At St Helena School in Colchester 77% of students gained five A*-C grades but headteacher Zoe King said the school will not be releasing overall figures for five A*-C grades including maths and English while the results are investigated.

Tendring Technology College principal Caroline Haynes also expressed concern, saying many schools had reported shifting grade boundaries had made it more difficult for students to achieve a grade C even if they had achieved the standard set out in the grade criteria.

In response to the NAHT, Ofqual chief regulator Glenys Stacey wrote: “We recognise the continuing concerns among students, parents and teachers about this year’s GCSE English results.

“We will look closely at how the results were arrived at.

“We will do this quickly, but thoroughly, so that we ensure confidence is maintained in our examinations system.”

Ms Stacey said she expected Ofqual to gather evidence in the coming days before meeting awarding bodies to discuss its findings.

Mr Hobby’s letter, which was distributed to union members across Essex to be sent to their respective MPs, suggested grade boundaries in English had been “significantly altered” during the year in response to fears the pass rate would rise again.

The union said it had been “inundated” with calls from schools about the situation, and urged Mr Gove to establish an independent inquiry.

Mr Gove has rejected suggestions that there had been political interference in GCSE results, insisting that any changes in grades were the result of “independent judgments made by exam boards entirely free from any political pressure”.

In Suffolk, Geoff Barton, of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, has also called for an independent inquiry into what happened. He said: “What strikes me is that it is really good that it has been recognised that there is a problem, because it did look as if the Government and Ofqual were in denial about this. But secondly part of me thinks that Ofqual are part of the problem here rather than the solution. Are they the right people to look at these problems? They have spent two days saying there is no problem and for them to be now saying there is a problem, it doesn’t really inspire confidence. It raises the question of are we are in need of a fully independent inquiry. That is what I would call for.

“Also, this needs to be done with a real sense of urgency, because youngsters have got college places depending on what happens. There is definitely a sense of urgency from headteachers that we can’t leave children in limbo.”

Mr Barton said there is an easy solution to the issue, adding: “What they should do is honour the grade boundaries before June. At a stroke that would solve the problem for pupils and be much fairer. But for schools, I think a fully independent inquiry is needed.”

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