“No confidence,” “Appalling”, “Unfair” – heads discuss GCSE grades on Newsnight

Janet Downs's picture
It’s a question of fairness, said Stephen Twigg, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, on Newsnight (31 August 2012). His views were echoed by two students, Manal Jinidi and Mohammad Kadiye, who just missed out on a C grade in English.

Head of Burlington Danes Academy, Sally Coates, who appeared with Michael Gove at last year’s Tory conference, said the debacle made a mockery of league tables. Anyone judging schools because of their 2012 GCSE results would need to know if the pupils took the exams in January or June when the grade boundaries were higher.

Glenys Stacey, Ofsted’s Chief Executive, defended the June results. She said they were fair because the examiners had more material on which to make a sound judgement. The problem had been with the January grades which looked right at the time but were subsequently found to be too generous. Ofqual recognised there was a problem with modular exams and was moving towards a linear system. However, she didn’t say that Ofqual had discovered a potential problem three years ago and had decided not to implement its own suggested solution.

Kenny Frederick, Principal of George Green’s School said she was “appalled…absolutely furious” and she wasn’t alone. Hundreds of headteachers up and down the country were equally angry. “This is not going to end here and there will be legal challenges.” She said teachers had followed “exactly” what they had been asked to do. She also dismissed the June/January argument saying that her pupils took the exam, worth 40% of the marks in January, but the speaking/listening and controlled assessments were submitted in June. Frederick said she didn’t believe that Secretary of State, Michael Gove, was not involved – he had “indirectly” affected the fall in grades. She had no confidence in Ofqual, saying it didn’t seem to understand the process of how schools worked. She said the RAISE on-line data on which schools relied would now be nonsense as the data was “up the creek”.

Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College, said it was a good thing that the rise in grades had been halted – he thought it restored confidence in GCSEs. Nevertheless, he thought the situation was “appalling” and had been dealt with in a “naïve” and “insensitive” manner. Ofqual should have been prepared and allowing affected students to re-sit the exam in November was, he thought, a tacit admission that Ofqual had got it wrong. He didn’t think Gove influenced the grade reduction directly.

As well as possible legal challenges, the House of Commons Education Select Committee will take evidence from the Education Secretary Michael Gove, Glenys Stacey and head teachers' leaders. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has already highlighted the conflict between requiring schools to improve GCSE grades while at simultaneously expecting exam boards not to allow a continuous rise in grades.

One thing is certain – this dispute is not going away.

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leonard james's picture
Sat, 08/09/2012 - 07:35

And still no one mentions the elephant in the room - How are schools going to meet increasingly high benchmarks without grade inflation?

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 08/09/2012 - 10:02

Leonard - I raised the issue of the mismatch between Gove's remark that schools were failing unless all pupils gained five GCSEs A*-C and his insistance that exams should be tougher in a "Yes, Minister" spoof in March:


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 08/09/2012 - 10:04

TES wrote that Ofqual's own rules could have prevented the grading changes if they had been followed. A letter sent to exam boards in June from Ofqual listed five conditions that must ALL be met if Ofqual's "comparable outcomes" policy were to apply. TES says that the English GCSEs failed to meet four of the five conditions.

The head of Burlington Danes Academy, Sally Coates, has called for a boycot of AQA, whose English GCSE is at the centre of the row.


Davis Lewis's picture
Wed, 12/09/2012 - 13:00

This is all about setting the ground for an expansion in private enterprise taking a greater role in education i.e. running schools for profit. More failing schools under a harder marking regime is just right for the Ark, Amplify and the other vultures queuing up.

Davis Lewis's picture
Wed, 12/09/2012 - 13:01

It will be interesting to see where Glenys Stacey's career path takes her - she is an Ed Balls appointment so mmmmm I just wonder.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 14/09/2012 - 09:45

Adrian Elliott on another thread wrote: "The schools I have spoken to or heard about all seem very clear that their results were not simply down on the January exams (which most had not entered pupils for anyway) but were significantly down on what they might have anticipated the same pupils getting in 2011, 2010 and so on if they had taken the examination then."

This is another issue which will need to be investigated. I expect that the reply will be that the 2012 exam was a new one and so no comparison can be made. However, Ofqual is supposed to ensure that standards remain consistent over time - I'm unsure how it will be able to explain how a sure-fire candidate for a C in 2011 or 2010 was given a D in 2012.

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