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Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Top GCSE grades 'a fix'
Jeffrey Robinson says the results are manufactured
A senior examiner has claimed improving GCSE grades are the result of a systematic lowering of pass marks, rather than of harder work on the part of pupils and teachers.

Jeffrey Robinson - who has just retired as a maths examiner for the Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations board (OCR) - said the pass rate was being massaged as schools sought exam boards which would give them the best results for the school league tables.

Jeffrey Robinson
Mr Robinson blames competition between exam boards and political pressure
Mr Robinson's claims came as the number of pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland achieving grades A* to C rose by 0.5% on last year to 57.1%.

The OCR was quick to distance itself from the accusations, which prompted an angry response from the Department for Education, the Joint Council for General Qualifications (JCGC) and the Qualifications and Curriculum Agency (QCA).

"It's the pass marks that are being lowered a little bit each year it seems and now they are about 25% below what they were 12 years ago," Mr Robinson said.

He said to obtain a grade C in a maths GCSE set by the OCR in 1988, pupils would have had to have gained 65% - but in 2000, that level had dropped to 45%.

'Little knowledge'

"People can now get a grade C without knowing any algebra at all. Basic things like percentages are almost beyond them.

"Those who just creep on to a C-grade really know very little maths," Mr Robinson said.

Competition for business among exam boards - as well as political pressure from both the current and previous governments - was to blame.

"In the early 1990s, we were losing customers by the hundred as schools were flocking to the other boards so we had to give in effectively to cope."

Schools would flock to the board which gave them the best grades, Mr Robinson said.

'Venting spleen'

Chief executive of the OCR, Dr Ron McLone expressed anger at Mr Robinson's words.

"It is always a shame when retiring examiners vent their spleen in this way and fail to apply the rigorous standards of argument that they expect of students," Dr McLone said.

David McGregor
Head teacher David McGregor says pupils are just working harder
"Nearly fifty years ago only one person ran the mile in under four minutes.

"Today, nearly all serious milers can do so - but the mile is still a mile," he said.

"In the same way it would be strange if more students were not doing better at A-level and GCSE," Dr McLone said.

Research showed children were achieving more and were working more intelligently and harder than ever before, he added.

Mr Robinson's comments were also rejected by head teacher David McGregor.

"I'd prefer to think children are working harder and teachers are working harder," he said.


The Department for Education said it "wholeheartedly rejected" the claim which was a slur on the achievements of young people.

Does Mr Robinson know that exam revision guides have become the best selling non-fiction books?

Paul Sokoloff
"There is no evidence to support Mr Robinson. The improvement in results is a tribute to the hard work of students and their teachers," a spokeswoman said.

Paul Sokoloff, convenor of the JCGC, which represents all awarding bodies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said the arguments were "flawed and representative".

Public examinations were one of the most closely regulated activities in the country, Mr Sokoloff said.

"Better preparation and hard work are the keys to success - does Mr Robinson know that exam revision guides have become the best selling non-fiction books?"

Urgent report

Head teachers urged the government to commission a report on exam standards to prove Mr Robinson wrong.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "I think it is an outrageous allegation but clearly the department ought to carry out an urgent inquiry to ensure that there is not a shred of truth in what he is saying".

"We really can't have this debate every year. It is becoming very wearying and it cannot help the morale of teachers and students," he said.

Conservative education spokesman, Tim Boswell, said there should be safeguards in place and the situation must be watched carefully.

"From the government and the country's point of view there are still some questions to be answered," he said.

Click below for complete subject-by-subject tables of all the results at:

The BBC's Rory Mclean
"He believes it is happening in other subjects"
On the Today programme:
Paul Sokoloff, convenor of the joint council of examining boards, and Chris Woodhead former chief inspector of schools
Exam results in the UK



Success stories


Row over new exams


See also:

23 Aug 01 | UK Education
23 Aug 01 | UK Education
21 Aug 01 | UK Education
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