Students Lose GCSE English Exam Grading Challenge At High Court

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Pupils have lost their appeal to overturn GCSE English grades | PA

An alliance of hundreds of pupils, schools, local councils and unions has lost a High Court challenge to overturn GCSE English exam grades.

The alliance claimed grade boundaries for exams sat in summer 2012 had been altered in a "statistical fix". The decision will disappoint thousands of students who would have been graded higher if they had sat their English paper in January instead.

Lord Justice Elias, sitting with Mrs Justice Sharp, said Ofqual had appreciated there were features which had operated unfairly and proposed numerous changes for the future designed to ensure problems that had arisen would not be repeated.

The judge said: "However, having now reviewed the evidence in detail, I am satisfied that it was indeed the structure of the qualification itself which is the source of such unfairness as has been demonstrated in this case, and not any unlawful action by either Ofqual or the AOs (exam boards)".

Clive Sheldon QC, appearing for the alliance, said the lower grades were not the fault of the students, who had "worked well and hard" and the evidence of unfairness was overwhelming.

Sheldon said students had been unjustifiably "clobbered" to meet the Ofqual requirement of no apparent grade inflation. and argued the "gross manipulation" that took place amounted to "conspicuous unfairness and an abuse of power".

The Welsh government has already intervened in the exam grades awarded to students in Wales, amid strong criticism from education secretary Michael Gove who called the decision "irresponsible and mistaken".

Ofqual gave the opportunity for students to re-sit their exams but refused to grant a re-grade of the papers. The exam watchdog came under fierce criticism after it was revealed GCSE grading problems were identified three years ago but Ofqual failed to act on the issue.

Headteachers have previously said students had suffered a "gross injustice" at the hands of Ofqual.

Ofqual had given an instruction to exam boards to avoid "grade inflation". Bodies awarding grades were required to meet tolerances based on statistical predictions derived from students' performances in Key Stage 2 examinations five years previously.

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.

Responding to the decision, Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the ASCL, said: "“We are naturally very disappointed by the Court’s decision. We still believe that thousands of young people had their exams unfairly downgraded last June in order to compensate for mistakes made earlier in the year.

"This is a lengthy judgment and we are currently considering it, in detail, along with our fellow claimants and legal team."

Lord Justice Elias dismissed the alliance's application for judicial review, but said the issue had caused an outcry and was "a matter of widespread and genuine concern properly brought to court".

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