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GCSE English Results

Volume 552: debated on Monday 29 October 2012

On 18 October, provisional national and local authority level GCSE results for 2012 were published. The percentage of pupils achieving grades A* to C in English had fallen by three percentage points to 66.2%. The independent regulator, Ofqual, continues its investigation into the awarding of English GCSEs this year, and is now looking into why some schools achieved the results that they had expected while others did not. The final report will be published shortly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) and I recently met teachers and head teachers in Luton to discuss the problems involved in the GCSE results. It is clear that some pupils were not permitted to take the sixth-form courses that they had chosen, as a consequence of their results, and that some schools that made strenuous efforts to improve their English results have actually been knocked back. Is that not a disgrace, and should not apologies be made?

I share the concern felt by the hon. Gentlemen. We must wait to see the Ofqual report before we can be more certain about what went wrong this year, but it is clear that there were a variety of factors consequent on the design of the examination, and that we need to take steps to remedy them.

In Hackney, 103 pupils received D grades in English in June. In some cases, classmates at the same schools achieved lower scores in January, and received C grades. In each of the five schools affected in Hackney, at least 85% of ethnic minority pupils received Ds rather than Cs. The Secretary of State talked about looking into why some schools had achieved less than others. Will he look into this very serious matter as well?

I certainly shall. Hackney has an exemplary record of educational improvement, and when there are inconsistencies such as this, we must look at the evidence to work out what has happened.

Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), I recently met head teachers from North Lincolnshire. Despite an improvement in results in the area this year, they were still concerned about this year’s marking, particularly in the case of pupils who would have found it easier to get an A in January than they did in the summer examinations. Will my right hon. Friend consider the concerns about the situation that will be expressed in a letter from my hon. Friend and me?

I certainly shall. As we all know, the hon. Gentleman is a teacher with extensive experience of working in some of the toughest schools. I am glad that there has been an improvement in academic results in North Lincolnshire, but yes, there are continuing question marks over the quality of marking at GCSE.

Questions raised about GCSEs earlier this year place even greater emphasis on the need for rigour in the exam system. Will my right hon. Friend encourage other parts of the United Kingdom to follow suit, and does he agree that clarity is needed for pupils and students, universities and employers, so that they compare equally?

My hon. Friend has made a very good point, and I look forward to working with the Welsh Assembly to ensure that standards there can be raised to the level enjoyed by students in England.

18. If the legal action against Ofqual is successful, and it is decided that pupils were treated unfairly—which the Secretary of State himself believes, although he refuses to do anything about it—what action will the right hon. Gentleman take? (124993)

We know that the Secretary of State is in a good mood, because yesterday was his favourite day of the year, when he gets an opportunity to turn the clock back without anyone being able to complain. Why does his new Schools Minister have no responsibility whatsoever for GCSE English, or even for the curriculum? Is he too ashamed to defend the Government’s position on the GCSE English scandal, is he too busy at the Cabinet Office polishing the Deputy Prime Minister’s shoes, or does the Secretary of State not trust him?

That was a three-part question, and I shall use both sides of the paper. Yesterday was, in fact, a sad day for me: I was in mourning because, sadly, Queens Park Rangers lost to Arsenal, who, with 10 minutes to go, scored a goal that I can only conclude was offside. It was a day of mourning for the Gove household. The Schools Minister, however, is fully involved in all discussions in the Department for Education in every policy area. The two of us are singing from the same hymn sheet, which is, of course, what we should be doing every Sunday, whether or not the clocks go back.