Teachers protest against Gove the Grade Robber!

Francis Gilbert's picture

There was a small but significant protest against the downgrading of the GCSE results at the Department for Education today. A number of teachers spoke out, including a Head of English, a South London English teacher, a NUT rep and the General Secretary of the London Association for the Teaching of English (LATE), John Wilks. The highlights of their speeches are included in my YouTube video.


A few common points are emerging now. First, GCSE exam scripts needed to be urgently 're-graded' in line with January's grade boundaries because it will be far too late in a few months time for students who are about to enter the Sixth Form: the courses they opt for in September are dependent upon their GCSE grades. This can't wait for the Ofqual inquiry into the scandal, which may take months. Second, there needs to be an honest and frank discussion about how GCSE grades are decided. They are supposed to be "criterion-referenced"; if students meet the criteria then they get the grade, no matter what anyone else has done. This means, in theory, everyone could get an A*, but so be it, if this is the case! Surely, that's the goal?? But, in fact, it now emerges, after a couple of decades of dishonesty, that they are really "norm-referenced" like the old O Level; the government, the exam boards, and other powerful people, actually decide behind closed doors "quotas" of students to get specific grades. John Wilks pointed out this terrible contradiction to me in a succinct and clear way; if there are actually "quotas" of grades and our exam system is indeed "norm-referenced", then surely telling schools that they must meet grade benchmarks, such as saying 40%+ of pupils in a school must get 5 A*-C grades, is utterly disingenuous? The fact of the matter is that the government know a certain proportion of children, at the moment 40% of them, are not going to get the much heralded 5 A*-C grades. The government knows that certain schools MUST fail. Our pupils, our teachers, and our entire education system is in a Catch-22 situation; whatever it does, it fails in the eyes of the current regime. Perhaps that's why the teachers outside the DfE were shouting "Gove must go!"

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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 29/08/2012 - 08:08

Francis is correct that GCSEs are supposed to be criterion-referenced which means, as he says, that if pupils fulfil the criteria for a particular grade (ie show what they know, understand and can do) they should be awarded that grade. However, there was a problem right from the start when GCSE C was described as being the equivalent of an O level grade C. O level grade C was supposed to show above-average ability. Grade E was supposed to be what the average pupil could be expected to achieve.

Over the years the number of pupils gaining GCSE C has risen. It can no longer be regarded as showing above-average ability. So here is the problem:

Either GCSE C returns to being a sign of above-average ability (norm referencing) OR it is a sign that pupils who gain C have reached the set standard for a C (criterion referencing). It cannot be both.

If it is norm-referenced (and this is what appears to have happened with the 2012 English GCSE results because the bar was raised between January and June) then a set amount of candidates will be below-average - mathematically it can't be otherwise. It is, therefore, unfair to judge schools as "failing" because their pupils fall into the "below-average" category.

Yes, it's time that Gove went. And perhaps it's also time that GCSEs were scrapped as well to be replaced with a final diploma at age 18 which genuinely shows what a young person knows, understands and can do.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 29/08/2012 - 10:23

The accounts above based on a simplistic criteria referencing/norm referencing distinction are inadequate and substantially wrong.

The best easy guide to how awarding (the setting of grade boundaries) actually works is AQA's A Basic Guide to Standard Setting available in PDF from the AQA site.

Also useful, to get a view of the standard procedures laid down by the regulator is
Section 6 of GCSE, GCE, Principal Learning and Project Code of Practice
May 2011, available from the Ofqual site.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 29/08/2012 - 18:23

Ricky you've found the documents which refer to the processes which are there to check that grade consistency exists.

The issues associated with criteria referencing and norm referencing still exist and are of very real importance.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 29/08/2012 - 23:23

The issue is about grade consistency. It was the setting of grade boundaries that started all this. Wake up.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 30/08/2012 - 07:16

Even the Mail ran an article claiming that tens of thousands of pupils may have missed out on GCSE C English because of "last minute grade fixing". The paper says that a headteacher has told TES that his analysis shows that more pupils are affected than was previously thought. (NB This analysis hasn't been checked as far as I know - it'll be interesting to find out what TES will print about this on Friday).


Andrew Old's picture
Thu, 30/08/2012 - 21:15

" This can’t wait for the Ofqual inquiry into the scandal, which may take months."

Aren't they publishing their initial report tomorrow?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 31/08/2012 - 15:43

Indeed so, Andrew.

The report is now out and this is what it says:

We have looked carefully in each exam board at how their examiners set the June 2012 grade boundaries for all units. We found that they acted properly, and set the boundaries using their best professional judgement, and taking into account all the evidence that was by then available to them. We have seen evidence of how it was done. The June boundaries have been properly set, and candidates’ work has been properly graded.


Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 31/08/2012 - 16:39

Today's TES reports that Ofqual identified a possible problem with modular GCSEs three years ago, worked out a possible solution but failed to put it into action:

"The exams watchdog highlighted concerns that modular GCSEs created particular risks in maintaining standards because they allowed pupils to “bank” grades early. It even came up with a workable solution that might have avoided the row that has erupted since last week, but decided not to implement it."

Ofqual, like Ofsted, appears to be increasingly unfit for purpose.



Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 01/09/2012 - 08:40

Breakfast news this morning (Sat 1 Sept): unions are meeting to decide whether to mount a legal challenge. Gove will be expected to answer questions in Parliament on Monday. Ofqual has "exonerated" Gove but if this is so then why did AQA decide to move the grade boundaries for English after the Jan exams? The official reason is that AQA didn't have enough info to work on at the time and therefore marked exams too generously. However, an alternative explanation would be that they realised that unless they raised the grade boundaries then too many pupils would get a C and this would go against Gove's much-publicised rhetoric about "rigour". They shifted the boundaries to avoid the Wrath of Gove.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Sat, 01/09/2012 - 09:25


but if this is so then why did AQA decide to move the grade boundaries for English after the Jan exams?

You often chide people for not providing links or references, however you clearly don't read the the material that is supplied. If you did, you wouldn't be asking this question. If some teachers had bothered to read the material supplied to them on the sites of the various awarding bodies, they would not have been taken by surprise or relied upon the Jan grade boundaries in the first place.

The 'awarding' (setting grade boundaries) system was adopted in 2009 and rolled out through AS, A and finally GCSE exams. It had noting to do with Gove.

The best easy guide to how awarding (the setting of grade boundaries) actually works is AQA’s A Basic Guide to Standard Setting available in PDF from the AQA site.

Also useful, to get a view of the standard procedures laid down by the regulator is
Section 6 of GCSE, GCE, Principal Learning and Project Code of Practice
May 2011, available from the Ofqual site.There is also an update of this tailored to this summer's GCSEs here

http://www.ofqual.gov.uk/files/2012-05-09-maintaining-standards-in- summer-2012.pdf

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 01/09/2012 - 08:47

Even one of Gove's much-admired Academy chains is joining the protest: “The Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), which runs 29 academies, is asking schools across the country to send it anonymised information, via the TES, about the backgrounds of pupils who missed out because of the grade boundary decisions on the English GCSE….Of the 20 AET academies with GCSE cohorts all were affected to some degree, Mr Triggs [AET chief executive] said. Pupils in AET academies that been entered early in June 2011 or January 2012 for English GCSE had tended to do well, while results dropped for those who had entered pupils this summer.”

So, according to David Triggs, , pupils who entered early in June 2011 also did better than those who waited until June 2012. Will Ofqual now say that June 2011 English exams were also marked too generously?

And the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust is also “backing the campaign” to discover whether disadvantaged pupils were particularly affected.


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 01/09/2012 - 10:01

It appears that the Ofqual link to the info re maintaining standards is no longer available. Two attempts received an error message "404 - Component not found -The page you attempted to visit does not exist."

Perhaps "maintaining standards" is somewhere else on Ofqual's website. Or maybe it's disappeared altogether.


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