Pupils have joined forces to launch a legal challenge against Ofqual to have their GCSE English exam papers re-graded.
Around 180 students aged between 15 and 16 are part of an alliance which has started legal action against the examinations watchdog. They demand the exams they sat in June are re-marked in line with the papers taken by their fellow pupils in January - which Ofqual has admitted were "graded generously".
Jonathan Clarke, a pupil at St Matthew Academy in Blackheath, London, was given a D in English and achieved A*s, As, Bs and Cs in the rest of his exams. The teenager said: "I worked hard for a C grade in English and it has been taken away from me right at the end. That is just not fair.
"I am now having to re-do the course with a different exam board over the next year at the same time as doing four A-levels."
The pupils have been joined by 117 schools, 36 councils and seven professional bodies across England.
In the letter, Ofqual is told its decisions regarding the GCSE grades were:
- "conspicuously unfair and/or an abuse of power, breaching without justification the legitimate expectations of students"
- "irrational and in contravention of the cardinal principle of good administration that all persons who are in a similar position should be treated similarly"
- "taken in breach of the public sector equalities duty: no regard at all appears to have been had to this duty"
Sir Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham, one of the councils joining the fight, said: "Our young people are paying for the bureaucratic bungling of others.
"Students performing at exactly the same level in January and June have been given different results – some have passed through the gateway into their next level of education or training, while others have had the door slammed shut in their face.”
The alliance includes the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), and councils and schools throughout England. The group said:
"In Lewisham 163 pupils have been left with D grades who, had they sat the exam in January, would have got a C. This is mirrored in every authority in the country.
"It is inconceivable that two cohorts of students enrolled for the same course in the same academic year, who have undertaken the same work and invested the same effort, and who will be competing in future for the same opportunities, should be subjected to such radically different standards of assessment and award."
Pupils in Wales have already had their exams re-graded after the Welsh government forced WJEC, the country's biggest exam board, to remark the papers. Almost 2,400 pupils gained better results.
England's education secretary Michael Gove has refused to intervene in the fiasco, calling Wales' education minister Leighton Andrews "irresponsible and mistaken". Ofqual is insistent the June grade boundaries were accurate.
A report from Ofqual, published in August 2012, stated:
"It is clear the C/D borderline is the boundary of strongest interest in most schools, and that most schools therefore invest considerable resources in getting borderline candidates up to or just above this level. In practice, this means most schools have a very strong need to know 'what grade C looks like' in the context of each type of assessment."
Headteachers across the country have said they were given no warning of the boundary changes - resulting in thousands of students losing out on a C grade.
Erica Pienaar, executive headteacher of Leathersellers’ Federation of Schools in London, said: “We understand that some grade adjustment goes on routinely, but schools are always informed about this and the adjustments are minor – one or two marks here or there.
"This year we were kept in the dark and, at 10 marks, the scale of the adjustment was huge.”
Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the NAHT said: "The statistics are opaque but the moral issue is simple: a group of young people have been made to pay a devastating price for the mistakes of others.
"This must be rectified swiftly."
Ofqual has been given until 27 September to respond to the letter, "given the immediate impact the decisions have had on educational and career opportunities for affected students".