• GCSE results controversy: the lowdown

Exams regulator begins investigation into GCSE English grades

++Update: 17:05 31 Aug 2012++
Exams regulator Ofqual has ruled out the possibility of June's English GCSEs being remarked. Its investigation found the January papers were marked too generously, but Ofqual says it stands by the grade boundaries for this summer's exams.

Ofqual had come under pressure from head teachers to regrade exams after it emerged that grade boundaries were changed in June from their January levels.

Those who sat their English GCSE in June will be offered the option of early resits.

Ofqual has issued a press release about its investigation - though at the time of posting its website was down.

Talk about this story: GCSE retakes and remarks

++Original article++
The controversy over this year's GCSE results rumbles on, and now exams regulator Ofqual has waded it. It's announced that it will "look closely at concerns over GCSE English results", after the proportion of students achieving A*-C in English exams fell markedly compared to 2011.

Top of the regulator's to-do list is sure to be an investigation of grade boundaries. It has been reported that these were hiked up following January's exams, with the result that those taking their English exams this summer had to get more marks than those who sat at the start of the year, just to achieve the same grades.

In particular, it means that a substantial number of pupils will have been awarded a D grade in English, when they might have achieved a C in the earlier set of exams.

But what can we expect from the investigation? Could some people see their English grades revised upwards? Well, there's no mention of that at the moment, but Ofqual is expected to announce its findings within a week. In the meantime, here's the lowdown on the fallout from this years GCSE results.

The background:

  • This year, the proportion of students achieving grades A*-C in all subjects fell by 0.4% (69.4% in 2012, 69.8% in 2011).
  • English language and English literature exams saw some of the biggest falls. In English literature, the proportion of students achieving A*-C fell by 2.1% to 76.3%. In English language, the fall was 1.5% to 63.9%.
  • In a letter to the National Association of Head Teachers, Ofqual chief regulator, Glenys Stacey, said there are "questions about how grade boundaries were set in a very small number of units across the year" which have caused concern.
  • She said Ofqual will look closely at the detail of grade C boundary setting for some of these units, and that it would meet awarding bodies within a week to discuss its findings.

What they're saying on the web
"It has become apparent that grade boundaries were significantly altered between the January and June examinations series and the consequence of this has been that the overall requirement for attaining a C grade increased by 10 marks between January and June.

NAHT believes that this is an iniquitous and unfair state of affairs, discriminating against those pupils whose schools took the decision to enter them in June. The decision will have serious consequences for those pupils adversely affected. In many cases, this may well prevent them from taking up opportunities to pursue A-level courses. This situation offends natural justice and is, quite simply, unfair."
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, National Association of Head Teachers

Ofqual is the independent exams regulator. Its job is to make sure that standards are maintained over time and that students receive the grades that they deserve. There has been a widespread debate over the last two decades about whether there has been grade inflation - that’s why we have strengthened Ofqual’s powers to make sure the system is robust and rigorous and to give the public real confidence in the results.
Department for Education spokesman

"The decision over grade boundaries is made by the exam boards and it’s vital that it should be the exam boards and not politicians or anyone else who makes that decision."
Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, speaking to the BBC

What you're saying on The Student Room
Seems sensible that GCSEs stay at a pretty standard pass rate each year, whereas before it was going up nearly a percent a year. If it goes down a tiny bit, what's the problem? Students wouldn't have been calling it unfair if it went up now, would they?

I find it too much of a coincidence that both GCSEs and A-levels deflated this year. However the government needed to do something about it and it seems like it chose this year to do it.

I agree that the pass rate should go down, but it's not exactly fair making people work for a grade then suddenly telling them ... their grade is going to go down. It'd be understandable if they just made the exams harder to begin with, then students could accept that they worked for their grade they deserved.

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