Norfolk County Council writes to Michael Gove over GCSE English fiasco

PUBLISHED: 08:43 22 September 2012 | UPDATED: 09:53 24 September 2012

Alison Thomas, Cabinet Member for Children's Services at Norfolk County Council.

Alison Thomas, Cabinet Member for Children's Services at Norfolk County Council.

Keith Whitmore +44 (0)7785 354701

The county council has written to the education secretary to highlight the “injustice” to hundreds of Norfolk teenagers who missed out on a vital C in their English GCSE this summer because of a mid-year grade boundary change.

The Conservative authority has decided to express “very serious disquiet” to Michael Gove over the exam boards’ decision to move the goal posts for this summer’s assessments in order to improve its “rigour”.

It meant students who submitted work for grading in June would have had to get more marks to secure a C than those graded in January.

Ever since results were published last month and frustrated schools identified the problem, the county council has been working with the Norfolk Association of Secondary Headteachers to assess the impact of that change on the county’s young people.

The number crunching has now revealed a total of 475 Norfolk GCSE students were disadvantaged – ending up with a grade D instead of a C – because of a decision to take the exam at the end of the year.

It equates to nearly 7pc of the 2011/12 cohort.

In light of that figure, Alison Thomas, county council cabinet member for children’s services, has written to the secretary of state.

In her letter, she says she is “dismayed” that attempts to standardise results have had “such an unfair effect on individual young people”.

She adds: “My feeling is that none of the complex arguments about the reliability of the assessment system outweighs the injustice for 475 Norfolk young people.

“The exam may need to be improved but it is unfair to sacrifice their results and futures by changing the grade boundaries during the course.”

Speaking to the EDP, Mrs Thomas said she felt it was her responsibility to write to the government to highlight the plight of the county’s students.

She said politics should not come into play over issues like this.

“This is about making sure I’m speaking up and advocating for the young people in Norfolk,” she said. “This was a decision taken by the examining bodies, not the Conservative government, so the politics of it are irrelevant. Whoever is in government, I would have written the letter.

“It’s about young people who have missed out on a grade which we know is vital to their future. That’s it.”

Getting a D instead of a C grade can mean the difference between securing a sixth form place, university place, and often a job.

The move by the county council comes as another letter, signed by 180 students, six teaching associations or unions, 117 schools and 36 councils from across England, was sent to the government threatening a legal challenge over exams watchdog Ofqual’s refusal to re-mark the papers.

The signatories included Open Academy in Heartsease, Norwich, and the King’s Lynn Academy.

In it, the group said: “It is inconceivable that two cohorts of students enrolled for the same course in the same academic year, who have undertaken the same work and invested the same effort, and who will be competing in future for the same opportunities, should be subjected to such radically different standards of assessment and award.”

Craig Morrison, principal at King’s Lynn Academy said he welcomed the action by the county council. A total of 16 students saw their grades drop from C to a D because of the boundary changes with a further two dropping from a B to a D.

He said: “Schools of all types in Norfolk have been affected but, at the end of the day, these are all young people who have been let down by the system. Our concern is for them first and foremost.”

Jon Platten, principal at Open Academy, said: “We will not rest until we have done everything we can to support every student who suffered this injustice. That is why we are lending our weight to the legal challenge.”

Appeals against some of the English grades have already proved successful for some Open Academy youngsters.

“It is an issue of fairness. At the Open Academy, one of our core values is integrity. Within this, we teach the importance of fairness,” the principal added. “We are fighting as strenuously as possible to ensure that our students get the grades they deserve.”

Brian Conway, headteacher at Notre Dame High School in Norwich, said he hoped the county council’s letter had an effect. He said, by following Mr Gove’s recommendations to put students in for exams at the end of their courses, students had been disadvantaged.

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