Alliance loses GCSE exams challenge

Romsey Advertiser: An alliance of schools, teaching unions and local councils has lost a legal challenge over GCSE English grades An alliance of schools, teaching unions and local councils has lost a legal challenge over GCSE English grades

An alliance of hundreds of pupils and schools and scores of local councils, as well as teaching unions, have lost their unprecedented legal challenge over GCSE English exam grades.

The alliance accused the AQA and Edexcel exam boards of unfairly pushing up the grade boundaries for English last summer in what amounted to "illegitimate grade manipulation" and "a statistical fix" involving exams regulator Ofqual.

But two judges at London's High Court have dismissed the challenge. 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)".

The judges were told at a hearing in December that an estimated 10,000 pupils who sat exams in June last year missed out on a C grade - the minimum grade normally needed to go into further education.

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

Ofqual had given an instruction to avoid "grade inflation", Mr Sheldon said. Predictions that too many students were going to get a C grade or better in GCSE English were used as a "straitjacket" rather than a guide, and a decision was taken to push up grade boundaries for the exams marked in June. This would bring down the numbers of good grades for the year as a whole, he added.

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".

Joan McVittie, headteacher of Woodside High School in north London, which was part of the alliance, and past president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "We are bitterly disappointed. This case was taken on behalf of young people who were affected last summer. This has affected their life chances considerably."

Ofqual chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: "We welcome the decision of the court that, faced with a difficult situation, Ofqual did the right thing and the fairest thing, for the right reasons. We know some students and schools will be disappointed with this. We understand that. But it's our job to secure standards."

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