23/08/2012 06:38 BST | Updated 23/08/2012 09:24 BST

GCSE Results: Does High Fail Rate Mean Exams Are Being Marked Too Harshly?

Panicked teachers have voiced their concerns GCSE English exams were marked too harshly this year after schools reported an unprecedented number of fails among their pupils.

Around 600,000 teenagers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be waking up to their GCSE results on Thursday.

But English teachers who were shown early breakdowns of the marks complained exam boards had substantially increased grade boundaries, leaving pupils with lower results than expected. The complaints come amid predictions that the pass rate across all subjects will start to stall.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said there seemed to be a particular problem with C/D borderline grades in English, with pupils who were expecting Cs ending up with Ds.

ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said there was "a lot of concern" among members about the changes to grade boundaries. He said: "We expected results to plateau because of the Government taking steps to peg them to previous levels.

"But we certainly didn't expect anything like this and schools have been taken by surprise. We've got some schools where teachers have been teaching the same course for years and suddenly the results are way below what they've always been before as the pass mark has been moved higher."

Dozens of teachers voiced their concerns about the issue on the Times Educational Supplement's website on Wednesday night. One said that the score out of 80 needed to get a C grade was now a whole 10 marks higher than earlier in the year. He added: "They've not moved the goal posts, they've put them on a different chuffing planet."

Another said: "Our results have been decimated. We're 10% lower than last year. Members of my department are in a state of shock as they say they've never worked harder and this is the result."

Michael Shaw, deputy editor of the Times Educational Supplement said he had spoken to teachers who were "extremely concerned" about their students' results due to the extent of the changes.

"One teacher told me the way one exam paper was divided up had changed so much she had to instruct students which questions to answer first.

"The last question was worth 25% of the entire paper so she told students to answer that first - but many other teachers may have been unaware of this so not able to tell their students."

Some took to Twitter to voice their anger at the changes, with one blaming Michael Gove for the high fail rate:

An ASCL spokeswoman blamed the government's "constant tinkering" with the exams system, adding: "They are fiddling and manipulating them all the time which is not fair for the kids who have worked really hard and have been working at a C grade level but now may not have got one after all."

Last year 69.8% of GCSE entries gained at least a C grade, and 23.2% got an A or A* but one expert predicted the pass rate will stall this year.