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Friday, 4 October, 2002, 00:54 GMT 01:54 UK
Exam board limits re-grading
A-level exam
The crisis was sparked by complaints from schools
The number of exam papers that might be re-graded in the wake of the summer's A-level fiasco has been cut.

One of the big three examination boards has announced there was nothing untoward in three of the five of its units under scrutiny.

Edexcel said that only two of its A2 units - in French and Spanish - might now be involved in the re-grading exercise.

The finger of suspicion had also been pointed at its Arabic, modern Greek and information and communication technology (ICT) papers.

Of the other boards involved in the re-grading, AQA has specified the two of its units which might be re-graded.

But the OCR board, which has the lion's share of the potential re-grading, is still scrutinising 97 units.

Two-stage process

The man carrying out the independent inquiry - former chief schools inspector Mike Tomlinson - explained on Tuesday how the re-grading would work.

He had identified 104 units - written papers, orals or coursework - in which exam board chief executives had moved the boundaries between grades this summer by more than was normal, in effect making it harder to get good grades.

This covered 26 different subjects and potentially affected tens of thousands of students, though exam boards played down the numbers likely to have been affected.

Many students e-mailing BBC News Online are amazed that exam units they took, which they believe were tampered with, were not even on the provisional list.

Their suspicions will not be allayed by this latest news.

The units would be reviewed, and might be re-graded, by a special panel for each subject within each board, which would include an independent observer.

But this would happen only if an initial test was met - that each exam board's top examiner for the subject concerned had not objected at the time to what the chief executive had done.

Grade boundaries

Edexcel has now said the chairs of examiners did not object in three of the five subjects under review in its case.

"Three of our chairs of examiners are comfortable with the grade boundaries, so we will be taking two subjects through to the second stage," a spokesman said.

"This does mean now that the potential number of students who could be affected if the boundaries were shifted drops down to 158."

In the case of its French A2 unit number 6444, option two, the boundary between grades A and B is in doubt.

In Spanish synoptic unit 6816 it is the bottom, E/U boundary that is to be re-examined.

Other boards

In all A-levels, the A/B and E/U boundaries, at the top and bottom, are the critical ones set by special awarding committees - and in these cases later amended by chief executives.

The other grades are simply filled in between those.

At the AQA board, which has faced more complaints than Edexcel, only two A2 units are in the frame.

These are the A/B boundary in English Literature and Language, unit NTA5, and the E/U boundary in French oral FR6T/V.

It says slightly more than 300 students might be re-graded.

Pressure

Of all three English boards, Edexcel faced the fewest complaints this summer - in marked contrast to its troubles at the start of the year, when head teachers called for its licence to be revoked and it was put on notice by ministers.

The big unknown in the grading review is OCR - the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations board.

The crisis was sparked by complaints from schools that it had downgraded students' results at a late stage.

Mr Tomlinson found this had happened because its chief executive, Ron McClone, had "perceived" he was under pressure from the QCA exam watchdog to hold down this year's grades to the levels of last year.

He set about tampering with the grading decisions in numerous subjects.

Interim report

More than 100 units are suspect.

But OCR has not been able yet to say which they are.

Asked why he intervened so much, Dr McClone says he simply did what he was "supposed to do" - and applied the rules as he understood them more "rigorously" than anyone else.

Mr Tomlinson cleared all the exam boards of any wrongdoing in his first, interim report last Friday.

He also cleared the QCA's chairman, Sir William Stubbs - but education secretary Estelle Morris sacked him anyway.

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The alleged A-level grades manipulation

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03 Oct 02 | Education
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