Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'Abuse of Public Power': Heads Turn to the Law over Grading Scandal: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'Abuse of Public Power': Heads Turn to the Law over Grading Scandal: News

Article excerpt

Lawyers confident that judges would quash June GCSE marks.

A landmark legal challenge to this summer's GCSE English results is expected to begin next week as figures show that already disadvantaged pupils have been disproportionately hit by controversial grading changes.

Leading barristers have told a consortium of teaching unions, local authorities and academies that they are "optimistic" that judges would quash grades from June that are dramatically out of line with those awarded in January.

The news came as Ofqual was dealing with the fallout from letters, revealed online by TES this week, showing that the regulator forced the Edexcel exam board to change grades that examiners believed were "fair" and backed by "compelling evidence".

MPs are extending their investigation into the affair. But education secretary Michael Gove has given Ofqual his full backing and ruled out commissioning a dedicated independent inquiry or ordering a regrading.

Legal action - looking increasingly likely to be schools' and pupils' only means of redress - is expected to focus on claims that the grading decisions were an "abuse of public power" and that they breached the Equality Act.

Simon Thomas, a solicitor for heads' union the NAHT, said it would be the first large-scale legal challenge to exam grades. The NUT, Leeds and Lewisham councils and the Association of School and College Leaders are among the other organisations involved.

Mr Thomas said grounds for a judicial review "would be the extent and magnitude of the change (in grades) and the fact that it was introduced without notifying or consulting schools".

"We would say that would amount to an abuse of public power and conspicuous unfairness and therefore from a legal point of view is irrational and unlawful," he added.

A detailed analysis of thousands of pupils, whose schools say they missed out on crucial predicted C grades because of a shift in grade boundaries, is expected to be the basis for a parallel challenge under the Equality Act. It suggests the pupils affected are twice as likely to speak English as an additional language compared with all state secondary pupils and a third more likely to have special educational needs.

David Triggs, chief executive of the Academies Enterprise Trust, which compiled the data and is part of the consortium, said: "Many of these pupils will not come back to school. These grades will affect them for the rest of their lives."

The consortium is expected to start its legal challenge next week with a formal approach to Ofqual.

Mr Gove told the Commons Education Select Committee on Wednesday that he would encourage individual pupils or schools who believed their grades were unfair to ask for a re-mark. …

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