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Thursday, 31 October, 2002, 17:28 GMT
Timeline: A-level grading row
exam candidates
The row affected thousands of students
The former chairman of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) plans to sue the government for wrongful dismissal in the wake of the A-level fiasco.

Sir William Stubbs was sacked by former Education Secretary Estelle Morris over the row about A-level grades.

BBC News Online details the extraordinary events that surround his departure from the post.

12 March 2002: Sir William Stubbs meets the chiefs of the three English exam boards - OCR, AQA and Edexcel. One of the topics discussed is the coming summer's A-level exams, the first under the new Curriculum 2000 system.

22 March: Chief executive of AQA Kathleen Tattersall - in her capacity as chair of the management committee of the boards' umbrella group, the Joint Council for General Qualifications - writes to Sir William. She asks for clarification that he was not asking the boards to disregard candidates' actual performance as part of efforts to ensure standards of difficulty remained the same as last year.

19 April: Sir William replies, saying grades can only be determined "using a combination of professional judgement". To constrain awards would be contrary to the code of practice and disadvantage students, he adds. He also says he expect last year's A-level results to provide a "very strong guide" to this year's outcomes.

26 July: Sir William and the three exam chiefs meet again. Exam boards realise the pass rate is set to go up by 2-4%.

29 July: Sir William contacts Education Secretary Estelle Morris and tells her of the improved pass rate, warning that this could inflame allegations that exams are getting easier. He suggests a review of the causes of these statistical changes to establish that there has been "no dilution of standards".

15 August: Results day. Pass rate reaches a record 94.3%, up 4.5 percentage points on 2001.

1 September: The Observer runs a story claiming thousands of pupils may have had their grades "fixed" (most notably by OCR) and had missed out on university places as a result. Department for Education and QCA express concerns and promise an investigation.

8 September: Independent schools are reported to have withheld publication of their results for fear of errors in the marking process.

12 September: Ken Boston, the Australian educationist, takes over as the QCA's new chief executive.

13 September: QCA launches an inquiry into claims examiners awarded more unclassified (U) grades in coursework in 2001/02 to prove A-levels were not getting easier.

15 September: The Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), which represents many independent schools, says it will back legal action against the examiners if the claims are proved correct.

16 September: Conservatives say the government may have intervened in the fixing of grades.

17 September: Edward Gould, chair of the HMC, claims the QCA has been "co-ordinating" the move to mark some students down.

18 September: Liberal Democrats call for the setting up of a single awarding body for England and Wales. The HMC, the Secondary Heads Association and the Girls School Association calls for results to be re-issued and call for an independent inquiry.

19 September Estelle Morris announces an independent inquiry into the row, headed by Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools. Chris Woodhead, his predecessor as chief inspector, claims there had been political knowledge of what had happened.

20 September: The QCA review of grading clears the exam boards of wrong-doing and puts the blame on poor teaching, saying there was no evidence to back claims that coursework had been down-graded unfairly. Head teachers are angry.

22 September: Heads say they have fresh evidence of QCA involvement in downgrading.

23 September: Heads meet Mr Tomlinson to give their evidence - but do not disclose details.

25 September: Mr Tomlinson meets Sir William, before meeting Ms Morris and School Standards Minister David Miliband. That night, Sir William accuses Ms Morris of "meddling" in the Tomlinson inquiry after finding out her officials contacted the boards about contingency plans should Mr Tomlinson recommend a complete re-grade.

26 September: Mr Tomlinson moves to quell fears his inquiry has been compromised. Ms Morris and Sir William are in the media spotlight, putting their sides of the story. Sir William says he is the victim of a "whispering campaign" by the government.

27 September: Mr Tomlinson publishes the first part of his inquiry. He recommends students' marked work in some A2 units in some subjects be re-graded and their overall A-level results be adjusted if necessary. He concludes the exam board chief executives "acted with integrity" and that the QCA behaved properly - clearing Sir William of any wrongdoing. Later that afternoon Ms Morris sacks Sir William as chairman of the QCA "to restore public confidence" in the organisation.

4 October: The exam board at the centre of the grading controversy - OCR - says it will only reconsider 63 of the 97 exam units about which Mr Tomlinson had raised concerns.

10 October: QCA chief executive Ken Boston says the testing system needs overhauling, with teachers being trusted to do more assessment themselves. He promises a new "examinations taskforce" to set out in detail how exams should be delivered.

15 October: The deadline for the boards to issue any revised results to students, schools and colleges. Only 1,220 A-level and 733 AS-level students have their results improved. Ms Morris makes an apology in the House of Commons about the grading debacle. Angry e-mails to BBC News Online describe the whole affair as a "whitewash".

28 October: Giving evidence to a Commons education select committee inquiry into the QCA, chief executive of the OCR board Ron McLone suggests some schools did not fully commit themselves to Curriculum 2000. Ken Boston tells the inquiry there could be further "strife" in the A-level exams next year and admits he has "no magic wand".

31 October: Sir William says he will sue the government for wrongful dismissal unless he receives a public apology from the government for being sacked as chairman of the QCA.

The alleged A-level grades manipulation

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See also:

27 Sep 02 | Education
28 Sep 02 | Education
10 Oct 02 | Education
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