- 01 сентября 2012, 22:31
As calls for inquiry grow, headteacher says offer of resits 'misses the point' and will create problems for pupils and teachers
MPs are poised to launch a cross-party inquiry into the GCSE marking fiasco this week as the dispute over "grade deflation" threatens to overshadow and disrupt the return to school after the holidays.
A parliamentary inquiry that would summon the education secretary Michael Gove to give evidence looks all but inevitable after the only Liberal Democrat MP on the education select committee, David Ward, joined Labour and Tory MPs in supporting an investigation.
"What are MPs and committees like ours for, if not to investigate this kind of thing?" said Ward, who effectively holds the balance of power on the powerful all-party committee.
"There are many students and parents who are very unhappy and we need to clear the air."
MPs have been bombarded with complaints from furious teachers and parents after tens of thousands of students, who had been expecting C grades – the crucial level for entry on to many A-level and other further education courses – were unexpectedly given D grades.
As the dispute showed no sign of easing, one of Gove's favourite teachers said that the offer on Friday by exam regulator Ofqual for pupils to resit their English exams early "completely missed the point" and would create huge practical problems both for pupils and the schools.
Mike Griffiths, the head of Northampton School for Boys – the first high performing school to convert to academy status after Gove's appointment in 2010, said that mass resits would be hugely disruptive. "It is all very well for Ofqual to offer resits, but who will do the teaching? Who will do the marking?
"In my school, students should be getting on with their A/S-level courses in the new term, and not worrying about retaking English, which could have a detrimental on their other studies. To say there is no knock-on effect here is ridiculous."
Griffiths – who has met Gove on several occasions – said that the whole grades debacle had eroded trust between teachers and the education authorities, and would make teachers much less willing to co-operate with the government over future changes to the exam system. "The staff feel that their professionalism has been called into question," he said.
"These are highly experienced teachers who use years of expertise to decide what level a pupil has reached. To claim that teachers are artificially inflating grades is complete rubbish. I really hope MPs take the issue up. I still hope that the end result here will be that these exams will be regraded."
One of the five Conservative members on the committee, Damian Hinds, also said that he expected MPs to launch an inquiry with the power to summon witnesses from the exam boards, the regulator and government. "I would find it surprising if we didn't, given that we have just completed an inquiry into the exam system, and all the issues fit together."
Gove, who is facing demands from Labour to appear before the House of Commons to answer questions about the controversy, has denied placing pressure on exam boards to pull down grades – despite his firmly held view that the system needs to be more rigorous. He was also cleared by Ofqual of doing so when it released its interim report on the controversy on Friday.
A survey by the Association of Colleges (AoC), of 64 of its 350 members in England, has meanwhile found a 94% fall this year in the proportion of GCSE English students achieving A* to C grades compared with expectations.
The survey found that 78% of colleges said they would need to create additional English GCSE classes to coach pupils up to the level necessary for their chosen courses. For 60% of colleges, this would mean employing additional teachers, the survey found, and for 54% it would mean changing course timetables.
Lesley Davies, the deputy chief executive of AoC, said: "The bottom line is that a student's English grade can impact on what they are planning to do with their lives. Colleges will sit down with every student to make sure they have the right course to meet their aspirations."
Gove is also under pressure to show that the introduction of free schools is on track. Some 51 of the schools – established by parents or others in response to local demand – were due to open this week. However five on the list: Parkfield School, Bournemouth, Compass Free School, Southwark, One in a Million School, Bradford, Swanage School, Dorset and Pimlico Primary in London will not now open.