GCSE English results challenged in High Court

An unprecedented legal challenge of last summer’s GCSE English results will open at London’s High Court later. An alliance of pupils, teaching unions, schools and councils is seeking a judicial review of last-minute shifts in grade boundaries in June’s exams. This is from the BBC…

If the court grants a judicial review, a three-day hearing will begin immediately. Secondary heads’ union ASCL said it was “quietly optimistic”.

Exams regulator Ofqual is not commenting ahead of the hearing.

The challenge calls for GCSE English exam papers taken by pupils last June to be regraded in line with grade boundaries used for the same exams in January 2012.

It questions decisions by exam boards AQA and Edexcel to raise the grade boundaries by an “unprecedented margin” from January 2012 to June 2012 . It also challenges the decision by the regulator Ofqual to “approve, or fail to reverse, that change”.

The alliance says some 10,000 pupils consequently missed out on a C grade in GCSE English, which is a crucial benchmark used for entry into further education, vocational training and employment, but the decision affected all the grade margins.

In total up to 50,000 pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland could receive higher grades if the judges uphold the challenge, says the alliance.

Some 2,300 students who took exams set by the Welsh exam board WJEC in Wales have already been regraded on the orders of the Welsh government, which regulates exams set there.

The case has been brought by a total of 167 individual pupils, supported by 150 schools and 42 councils, plus six professional bodies, including teaching unions.

They will say that between January and June 2012 it was decided that too many students were going to get a C grade or better in GCSE English, so a decision was taken to push up grade boundaries for the exams marked in June to bring down the numbers of good grades for the year as a whole.

They argue that this amounts to a crude “statistical fix” which was unfair and against “natural justice”.

“Now that we have looked at all the evidence and made final preparations for the court case, we remain certain that it is the right thing to do,” said Brian Lightman of ASCL.

“Thousands of young people in England were unfairly downgraded in June in order to compensate for mistakes made earlier in the year.

“The only fair course of action for these students is to regrade the papers. While many of them will have moved on to college courses or to other options, their grades will remain with them for years to come and that is unjust.”

Mr Lightman added the fiasco was a result of a “systemic failure” in the awarding of English GCSE grades this year.

“This is not about the rights and wrongs of modular qualifications or dumbing down of GCSEs, but about following the basic textbook principle of ensuring that assessment is reliable and fit for purpose,” he said.

Christine Blower, of the National Union of Teachers, said: “It is a great shame that we find ourselves in this position. The lead from the Welsh government should have been followed and the regrading of those pupils affected should have been ordered.

“Michael Gove missed the opportunity to correct this unfairness to students in England. I sincerely hope the High Court takes a different view and rectifies this injustice.”

Ofqual and the two exam boards have said they will not be commenting on the proceedings until they are over, but Ofqual has vowed to “rigorously defend” its decisions.

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