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Friday, 15 November, 2002, 10:31 GMT
New row over A-level grades
Exam candidate
The row over grades is not over yet
At least 20,000 students who sat A-levels this year may still have lower grades than they deserve, a new report warns.

The scope of October's re-grading was too narrow as thousands of students were left out of the review of this summer's results, statistician and mathematician Roger Porkess found.

Roger Porkess
Roger Porkess: Concerned about the future

The Liberal Democrats called for the inquiry into the summer's A-level fiasco to be re-opened.

But the man who carried it out - former chief schools inspector Mike Tomlinson - said he had spoken at length with Mr Porkess and did not accept his evidence.

In the Commons, the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, said he had full confidence in the Tomlinson process.

"I don't believe there is any basis for reopening the inquiry," he said.

Ongoing review

Only 1,220 A-level and 733 AS-level students had their grades raised as a result of the process set up by Mr Tomlinson - all of them with the OCR exam board.

OCR had looked at the grades of more than 91,000 students.

Mike Tomlinson
Mr Tomlinson oversaw the review of results

The Tomlinson inquiry was set up by the former education secretary, Estelle Morris, in response to complaints from schools that students' results appeared to have been downgraded this summer.

Mr Tomlinson is due to report again on 3 December on how the standard of A-levels can be maintained and their credibility secured.

He could not be contacted on Friday but his spokesman said that any re-opening of the first part of his inquiry, into this summer's grades, was a matter for the Department for Education.

He and Mr Porkess had spoken on a number of occasions but so far as Mr Tomlinson was concerned there was no "hard evidence" that grades were still wrong.

'Caution needed'

But Phil Willis has said that, in a meeting he had with Mr Tomlinson, the former chief inspector "admitted that he could not give an assurance that every student had received the grade they deserved this year".

He said a halt should be called to the destruction of A-level scripts, which could start next week.

If no further changes could be made, employers and universities should take account of additional information, such as students' predicted grades.

"In any event, no performance tables should be published this year on the basis of A-level results as they will not provide any reliable guide to the performance of schools or of pupils.

He added: "Trust cannot be rebuilt until there is an admission that all still is not well with this year's results.

"Many angry students, parents and examiners will not be satisfied if they are told that justice has been done this year when clearly it has not."

'Flawed system'

Mr Porkess said that, on the basis of his long experience and "deep understanding" of the examination process, "the things that have been going on just haven't added up at all".

"The late adjustments that were done this summer are fundamentally wrong in examining terms," he said.

Students had been "cheated" of their proper grades.

"If we are going to brush under the carpet tens of thousands of candidates' getting wrong grades... we have produced a system that ensures there will be no reliability in our exam system from now on," he said.

The calculation

His investigation focused on the basis of the process Tomlinson set up to review people's grades.

This involved exam modules where the exam boards' chief executives made final adjustments to the boundaries between grades by more than had been their custom in previous years.

Mr Porkess says this had restricted its scope to "the most extreme movements" of grade thresholds.

"Consequently many of this summer's candidate's have lost an A-level grade.

"As a mathematician I estimate the number affected to be over 20,000."

Changes ordered

  • This summer the psychology A-level set by the OCR exam board was re-graded - not because it met the Tomlinson criteria but because the board itself admitted having received so many complaints about it.

    In the end, no psychology students' grades were changed.

    But this week, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) revealed that only nine marks - from 39 to 30 - had separated an A grade from a fail.

    It said the results stood, but this range was too narrow.

    So it has told OCR to review its mark scheme "and to apply a broader range of marks between grade boundaries for psychology in 2003".

    The BBC's Mike Sergeant
    "Up to 20,000 candidates could have received lower grades than they might have expected"
    Report author Roger Porkess
    "They only looked at the most extreme cases"
    The alleged A-level grades manipulation

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