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Exam scandal costs pupil Cambridge place

PUBLISHED: 19:17 19 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:40 03 March 2010

SUFFOLK students were today rocked by the fear that they are the victims of what could turn out to be the biggest scandal to engulf the exam system in living memory.

SUFFOLK students were today rocked by the fear that they are the victims of what could turn out to be the biggest scandal to engulf the exam system in living memory.

The Evening Star can reveal that the growing furore over A-level marking has cost one pupil from Woodbridge School a place at Cambridge University.

A probe into allegations that the three main exam boards marked down some A-level pupils was ordered today by education secretary Estelle Morris.

Stephen Cole, headteacher at Woodbridge School confirmed that suspicions over A-level marking had cost two male pupils university places – one of them at Cambridge. He refused to give any other details.

Mr Cole said:"We've had lots of candidates who have results which are totally out of synch with the rest of them, particularly in subjects such as history and English.

"There are suspicions in other subjects, including biology and psychology, but thankfully most students secured good enough grades in other subjects to not be affected.

"But there were two young men who missed out on university places, one at Cambridge, one at Warwick."

Sir William Stubbs, chairman of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), said he had asked the education secretary to order the probe after hearing allegations that the QCA had directed the change in marks.

The QCA, the government's testing watchdog, was today investigating claims that the three main exam boards marked down A-level entries to counter suggestions that the exam had become too easy.

Its chairman today conceded "there may have been something untoward" in the marking of some A-level papers.

If that is true, it will have left thousands of students without the grades they needed for university places they rightly deserve.

The country's headteachers have accused the watchdog of "pressurising" the exam boards into downgrading the exam results.

They demanded a "wholly independent inquiry".

The heads have called for all this year's A-level entries to be re-checked according to the original grade boundaries and all results reissued.

Ipswich-based Ian Cowley of NATFHE (the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education) said even if an inquiry concluded the exams had been marked correctly, the claims would have shattered confidence in the A-level system.

He said: "Unfortunately some people have been denied places.

"In general terms, it's a mess. It is important that public confidence is restored, because although some older people don't know what GCSEs are, A-levels have been established for donkeys' years, and they have been held up as the 'gold standard.' They mean something definite to people."

Marilyn Watsham, assistant principal at Suffolk College, said around 70 information and communication technology students had been disappointed by their grades, and a re-mark had been requested.

She said: "The coursework is believed to have moderated down, for no clear reason.

"We logged the concern immediately before this national furore broke out."

Neil Watts, headteacher at Northgate High School in Ipswich, has admitted that a total of 12 pupils have been alerted over possible grading concerns.

He said: "We do have a query about one subject as to whether there have been some inaccuracies.

"It is not unusual for us to query grades.

"Each year the exam results are looked at very closely to make sure they are in line with expectations, and, on average, we query the results from one subject."

Refusing to say which subject had been affected, Mr Watts added: "The pupils in question have been contacted and they are mostly very happy with the results they received.

Sian Grant, headteacher at St Joseph's College in Ipswich, said: "Representations were made by the college to certain examination boards immediately the results for A-level were published in August.

"We are dismayed by the unfolding picture nationally and hope that a full independent investigation is carried out so that a more transparent system is established and confidence regained in the whole process."

Valerie MacCuish, headteacher at Ipswich High School For Girls said confidence over the new A-level system had fallen, but said the school had not been badly affected.

She said: "We have taken up issues with exam boards on three subjects – English, history and modern languages.

"I would like to add that we have very stable and experienced staff here and some felt our pupils had been downgraded by as much as two grades based on past years.

"The good news is that nobody has lost a place at university over this."

Sue Hargadon, head at Farlingaye High School in Woodbridge, said there had been inconsistencies in English and history papers.

Copleston High School in Ipswich confirmed that its latest A-level grades have not been the subject of any query.

n Have you been affected? Tell us your story - call the Evening Star newsdesk on 01473 282257.

n See Your Letters, page 8.

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