Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Exam Boards Told Ofqual It Was Too Close to Scandal: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Exam Boards Told Ofqual It Was Too Close to Scandal: News

Article excerpt

Regulator warned months before results day about grade inflation.

Exam boards told Ofqual it was too closely involved with this summer's controversial GCSE grading scandal to investigate the process, with at least one board calling for an independent inquiry, emails seen by TES reveal.

Correspondence also shows the regulator was warned more than five months before results day that there were problems with the system it was using to combat grade inflation. Three boards eventually deemed the statistical approach unreliable and four out of the five exam boards had difficulty producing GCSE English results that satisfied Ofqual's demands.

Nearly 150 pages of letters, emails and minutes released under the Freedom of Information Act suggest that Ofqual struggled to stay on top of the unfolding crisis (see panel, right). Heads claim that many thousands of pupils have missed out on C grades because of a dramatic shift in GCSE English grade boundaries between January and June.

The correspondence shows that by the end of July, exam boards were considering how they could "defend" an unlikely set of results. Despite being more lenient than the statistical predictions Ofqual had ordered, grades were tougher than in 2010 and 2011 - Edexcel grade Cs had fallen by 11.4 percentage points.

As TES went to press, an alliance of teaching unions, local authorities and schools were waiting for responses - expected yesterday from Ofqual and the AQA and Edexcel boards - to threats of legal action over the results.

But school leaders want a full independent inquiry, even if they are granted a regrading. "If we are to avoid making the same mistakes again we need someone independent to get to the bottom of what happened," said Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT.

TES has learned that the Commons Education Select Committee will not decide for at least another 10 days whether to hold more hearings as part of its so far limited inquiry into the affair.

Ofqual has conducted the only other investigation. But emails show exam boards expressed misgivings about the regulator's suitability for the job on the day it was announced.

A message from Welsh exam board WJEC on 25 August reads: "One question which I think needs to be considered ... is whether there are aspects of this investigation which need to be handled by someone independent of the regulators. …

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