CONCERN has been expressed by a number of principals that local GCSE English students may have been affected by the fall in grades controversy, writes Mairead Holland.
The row over the grades was believed to have affected exams set by the English examining boards only but a number of schools using the Northern Ireland CCEA examining board have also noticed a drop in grades.
Mr Andrew Turkington, principal of City of Armagh High School, said the school’s English language results had been lower than expected, and he had contacted the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) with his concerns.
He said, “ I have spoken to three or four other principals and they are in the same boat. We have children here who have been querying their English marks. Some were expecting to get Cs but got Ds which means they will probably have to repeat it.
“It can’t just be the English exam boards which are affected. If a decision was made in England to have a lowering of grades then CCEA have to fall in line with it. Otherwise, a student in England wouldn’t be on an equal footing with a Northern Ireland student when it comes to applying for university places.”
David Mehaffey, principal of Craigavon Senior High School, said the school had noticed a drop in grades but that it was too early to give a detailed explanation for this.
Lismore Comprehensive principal Joe Corrigan said his school had seen a fall of three per cent in English GCSE grades but that this may have been due, in part, to a change in the exam specification, including the introduction of controlled assessments.
He said, “It is not a significant reduction but if this was the experience of other schools then it would be significant. There is an Area Learning Community (ALC) meeting within the next two weeks and I will be asking other principals how they have fared in English GCSE.”
Aidan Dolan, education director of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he had received a number of phone calls from schools which had sat the CCEA English exam, with one school reporting a fall of 20 per cent in their grades.
He said, “There is undoubtedly an issue here. The English examining boards are regulated by OFqual and even though Northern Ireland has its own regulator, our examining boards here are ultimately subject to any decisions made by OFqual.
“I have not been able to speak to anyone from CCEA but OFqual are releasing a report tomorrow (Friday) and we are expecting the CCEA to make a statement then.”
The association has called for an independent review of this year’s GCSE English results and for all papers to be remarked using last year’s criteria.
Mr Dolan said there is widespread suspicion that the Westminster Education Minister, Michael Gove, influenced examining bodies to prevent any rise in grades this year.
He said, “The reduction in grades appears to affect a number of subjects with many schools reporting a very significant decline in their English language results. The effects on individual pupils are devastating and can result in preventing them from accessing sixth form and further education.
“Ultimately it will affect their eligibility for employment as many jobs require a minimum of Grade C in English. It appears that the grade boundaries have been changed so that 10 more marks are needed to achieve a C grade than previously. As a result many pupils have not got the results that were predicted by their teachers.”