Why the #GCSEFiasco campaign needs our support

What an unforgettable summer we experienced this year. For sports fans like me it was fantastic but for some students and their teachers it will not be remembered so fondly.

When GCSE results were published in August, in particular GCSE English results, considerably more pupils than predicted who had been working toward a C grade were awarded a D. This was significant for those students who needed at least a C to move on to the next stage in their education. It was important for schools as the most commonly used measure of their performance is the number of GCSEs gained between A*- C.

It quickly became clear that too many students at too many schools had not met carefully tracked predicted expectations for there not to have been some sort of an issue with grading. Within days, concerns expressed by head teachers throughout England and Wales that something had to be amiss were accepted by most observers.

The story quickly unfolded from there and was covered by the BBC in the following report on the 21st September.


The summary contained within this report provides a quick guide to the issue to that point:

  • Issues with GCSE English grading emerged as results reached schools in August
  • Heads suggested the exams had been marked over-harshly after Ofqual told exam boards to keep an eye on grade inflation
  • Exam boards told reporters grade boundaries had changed significantly mid-way through the year
  • Alterations were as much as 10 marks
  • Heads complained pupils who sat GCSE English in the winter might have got a lower mark if they had sat it in the summer
  • Their unions called for an investigation and some mentioned legal action
  • Ofqual agreed to hold an inquiry
  • It ruled that the earlier January grade boundaries were too lenient and the June grades were correct

During this period, on the 11th September, the Parliamentary Education Select Committee quizzed a representation of head teachers and three prominent members of exam regulator Ofqual to try to ascertain what had happened. The committee were not content that there was clarity on what had occurred between January and June.

The committee’s Chair, Graham Stuart MP, made the following statement the next day.

“The evidence we have taken this week on the GCSE English exam results for 2012 has left many questions unanswered. The Education Committee will continue its scrutiny of this important matter.

“We intend to get to the bottom of what happened and how it happened.

“Our next step will be to ask further detailed questions of Ofqual in writing and we will publish these and their response in due course.”

Meanwhile, what of the students? No-one has disputed that English GCSE grade boundaries changed between January and June and yet, following their initial “inquiry”, Ofqual concluded that affected students should be offered free re-sits, not a re-grade on the same terms as January’s papers.

To use another reference to the summer, whatever the politics of the situation, this is just not fair play.

To illustrate this point, let’s consider the Olympics Long Jump competition. Two pools of athletes are formed to decide who will qualify for the final. An agreed distance is used as the qualification mark based on jumps in recent competitions, the 2012 distance was 8m10cm (8:10) for example.

The first pool jumps in the morning. One athlete, let’s call him Greg Rutherford, jumps 8:15 and qualifies. In the afternoon, another athlete, Chris Tomlinson, jumps the same distance.

However, unbeknownst to both, officials have got together after the first pool have jumped and are concerned that too many athletes have made the mark and the final will therefore have too many competitors in. So, after both pools have jumped, they announce that the qualifying distance for pool two has been revised to 8:20.

Having performed just as well as Greg Rutherford, Chris Tomlinson is denied a place in the final only because he jumped in pool two.

Following protests, the officials decide that the best thing to do would be to allow those in pool two who jumped a distance between 8:10 and 8:19 to jump again the next morning. But the qualifying distance remains at 8:20.

Ludicrous. Patently unfair. But precisely the same logic that Ofqual appear to have used in relation to 2012 GCSE English.

Some of Brentwood’s own young people have been affected by this. In his Head Teacher’s talk at the St Martin’s School Open Evening, Mike O’Sullivan reported that the school had expected their A*-C results to be at least 5 per cent higher. Brentwood County High School has confirmed to me their results were similarly affected, Shenfield High School students sat their papers in January but Year 10 GCSE coursework will have been graded subject to the change too.

Brentwood’s GCSE results were impressive by national standards but some of our students have been harshly treated. To re-iterate the point, no-one, including Ofqual or the government, denies that papers for the same exam received different grades depending on when they were sat. Whatever your view of the exam itself this cannot be fair.

Today a group of head teachers and councils have launched legal action against two exam boards and Ofqual that seeks a re-grade of all affected papers.


Earlier this month, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) announced their own legal challenge and support this latest one. It seems to me that anything other than a re-grading perpetuates the injustice and I am glad that this legal action has the support of many head teachers and their schools. I have been advised that this includes local ones.


Head teacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmonds, Geoff Barton, has been at the forefront of a Twitter campaign to keep the issue in the public eye until it has been satisfactorily resolved, using the hashtag #GCSEFiasco. Anyone wishing to know the latest should visit his blog site which is regularly updated. The following was his typically excellent brief summary of the situation on the 10th October.


We should not just leave this to the professionals though. The following is a link to an e-petition on the DirectGov website that calls for a parliamentary inquiry into this whole issue. I have signed it and, if you want to support fair treatment of students and wish to see an examination system that has integrity, I would urge you to sign it too.


Until justice is served, this must not be allowed to be forgotten.

Stephen Mayo

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