Chiswick School Head Slams Exam Grade Changes

Says boundary change put his students at a disadvantage

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The head of Chiswick School has described the change of English GCSE grade boundaries as a “mistake” which has badly affected his students.

The proportion of students at the school achieving at least a C grade in English GCSE was 11% lower than their teachers had predicted.

Teachers across the country have been particularly critical because the boundaries were only changed half-way through this year.

Tony Ryan, Head teacher at Chiswick School, said: “I am particularly concerned that students who should have achieved a C in English this year will now have to retake next year. This will undoubtedly affect their A level choices.

“It seems particularly unfair that the boundaries were moved only for the summer exams meaning students who took the same syllabus in January have gained an unwarranted advantage.

“We will do everything possible to support our students in gaining the English GCSE they deserve next year and will be addressing the grade boundary issue directly with the relevant examining body.”

Ryan said on the BBC’s Newsnight: “I have about 25 students who expected to get a C grade today and didn’t.”

He added: “My English department are one of the best I’ve ever worked with. I trust their predictions."

A school spokesperson said: “For the past two years the department has been spot on with its predictions and much of its teaching has been judged outstanding by OFSTED. Had English results this year been in line with predictions combined with our outstanding performance in Mathematics, the school would have achieved 71% 5A* to C with English and Maths.

“In preparing for the new syllabus being introduced the English department did everything possible to meet the new standards. The board appeared unwilling to clarify what standards needed to be achieved to gain a C in the controlled assessment part of the examination effectively leaving teachers to use their professional judgement without supporting criteria.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders has called for an investigation into English results.

He said: “What appears to have happened is that, halfway through the year, it was decided that too many students were going to get a C grade in English and the grade boundaries of the exam were pushed up very substantially.

“Students who were working at a C level throughout the year, who were told on their assessments that they were in line for a C, have found out today that this is worth a D. This means they may not get their places at college and sixth form.”

AQA, the board with the highest market share in English, said that the changes were in line with any other year: “This summer, all the exam boards raised their grade boundaries for GCSE English in order to maintain standards. In AQA's case, this was by between 0 and 3 marks.

“We take account of how students have performed in each exam series when we set grade boundaries, in order to ensure that standards are maintained.

“While grade boundaries can therefore vary between exam series, students can be confident that the grade they get for an overall qualification one year would be the same the next.”

This year has seen the first drop in GCSE results since they were introduced in 1988.

69.4% of exam entries achieved an A* to C grade, compared to 69.8% last year. The proportion of entries receiving a top A* or A grade also fell from 23.2% to 22.4%.

In GCSE English, the drop was greater, with a fall in entries achieving at least a C grade from 65.4% to 63.9%. 15% of students were awarded an A* or A, down from 16.8% last year.

But Ryan told Newsnight that he did not oppose tackling grade inflation.

“I’ve got no problem with changing the system, but give us time to work with it, don’t spring it on us,” he said.

“You can’t have 24 years of grade inflation and keep going that way, and there’s got to come a time when you cap it...but this year a mistake has been made.”

Jonathan Tomlin

August 24, 2012