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This is the full text of a letter from Mike Tomlinson to the Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, on how the review of A-level grades should be carried out:

2 October 2002

INQUIRY INTO A LEVEL STANDARDS: SUPPLEMENTARY ADVICE ON THE RE-GRADING OF 2002 ENTRIES

I am now in a position to offer the further advice which I promised in my report on Friday 27 September. I should also record my thanks for the help and support which I have received from the awarding bodies and QCA in reaching my conclusions about the scope and manner of the re-grading.

Recommendation 1

Following further discussions I now recommend that the grading of summer 2002 AS and A2 units should be reviewed as follows.

For those units where the Accountable Officer's (AO) changes to the A/B or the E/U grade boundaries recommended by the Chairs of Examiners were larger than the normal pattern for legacy A levels there should be a review of the relevant mark grade boundaries. This review will be completed and any revised results issued to students by Tuesday 15 October. The review should be a two stage process:

  • Stage one: the awarding bodies will provide to me evidence of those units for which the Chairs of Examiners were fully content with the changes made by Accountable Officers.
  • Stage two: for units where this is not the case, the grade boundaries should be reviewed by a panel comprised as set out in recommendation 2, below.
  • I attach a list, which I have agreed with the awarding bodies, of those subjects which include units within the scope of this process. The exercise will cover 104 individual AS and A2 units out of a total of 1,438 units examined by the three English awarding bodies this summer. The total number of entries for the units which will be reviewed was 304,205. The number of individual students who took these units will be significantly lower than this. Because of the complexity of entry patterns - for instance students entering A levels from more than one awarding body, or entering more than one affected subject or unit - it has not been possible in the time available for the awarding bodies to arrive at an estimate of the number of candidates whose grades are potentially affected by this process. They will provide this information as soon as possible, and certainly no later than 15 October when the results of the review will be announced.

    In addition, OCR has offered to review the grading for both English Literature and psychology. This recognises the scale of concern which has been expressed about these subjects, even though the OCR AO did not make changes outside the legacy A level pattern to the mark grade boundaries recommended by the relevant Chairs of Examiners this summer.

    Recommendation 2

    I further recommend that for the units for which the second stage of the review process is applied, final decisions on the mark grade boundaries should be taken by the relevant awarding body Accountable Officer advised by panels for each unit or subject comprising:

  • the Accountable Officer and Chair of Examiners from the relevant awarding body;
  • awarding body support staff;
  • a Chair of Examiners for the same subject from another awarding body;
  • a participating observer from QCA;
  • a non-participating independent observer drawn from a panel recommended by all the headteacher and teacher associations, the Association of Colleges and representatives of the independent schools sector.
  • Panels will form their conclusions based on consideration of all the material which was available to the relevant awarding committee when it recommended mark grade boundaries in the summer - including samples of students' work - and any further scripts and other exemplar material which is now available. The non-participating independent observer will report to me, confidentially, that the process (not the outcome) set out by me has been followed. I will also be visiting all the awarding bodies to observe the process in action.

    Other matters

    I have agreed with the awarding bodies that they will make a single announcement covering the outcome of the whole review process.

    Exceptionally, in these circumstances, no grade will go down as a result of this process. It should be noted that this process may result in no change to grade boundaries for some of the units in question, where the panel concludes on the basis of all the available evidence that the AO's original decision was correct.

    I should also say that in some cases, the change to the grading of a single unit may have no effect on the overall A level or AS grade. So there may be circumstances in which unit grade boundaries and grades are changed, but some students' overall A level grade nevertheless remains unchanged.

    It is important to note that no individual students' work will be re-marked as a result of this exercise. Where there are concerns about the standard of marking or of coursework moderation, those should have been pursued through the usual mechanisms for enquiries upon results and appeals, the closing date for which was 20 September. The awarding bodies have agreed to consider enquiries on 2002 A level and AS results changed as a result of the review process providing that these are received by the relevant awarding body by 25 October to allow students and schools to take account of any re-grading.

    I hope that these arrangements and their outcomes will bring to an end the anxiety that many students have endured during the last few weeks.

    I am copying this letter to the three English awarding bodies, QCA, ACCAC in Wales and CCEA in Northern Ireland.

    MIKE TOMLINSON

    Annex:

    Subjects affected by reviews of 2002 A level and AS grading:

    AQA

    2 individual units drawn from the following subjects:
    English Literature and Language A
    French

    Edexcel

    5 individual units drawn from the following subjects:
    Arabic
    French
    Modern Greek
    ICT
    Spanish

    OCR

    97 individual units drawn from the following subjects*:
    Accounting
    Art
    Chemistry A
    Classical Greek
    Computing
    Economics
    Electronics
    French
    Geography A
    Geography B
    German
    Government and Politics
    History
    ICT
    Latin
    Media Studies
    Music
    Physical Education
    Physics B
    Religious Education
    Science
    Spanish
    *In addition, OCR will also be reviewing grading in English Literature and Psychology in the light of the concerns which have been expressed about these subjects.

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