The exams regulator Ofqual this year forced Pearson, which runs the Edexcel exam board, to raise its grade boundary for the crucial C grade on a maths GCSE, it has emerged.
A letter from Ofqual chief executive Sally Collier, sent a fortnight ago but published for the first time today, reveals that Ms Collier told Pearson to raise the C grade boundary on its higher-tier maths paper from 32 to 33 marks.
The disclosure comes in the wake of a petition urging the exam board to lower the grade boundarieson this year’s paper, which were significantly higher than last year’s grade boundaries.
The petition had attracted 510 signatures since yesterday – but Pearson said this year’s grade boundaries had to be raised because the exam paper was more “accessible”.
The Ofqual letter reveals that Ms Collier told Pearson that unless it raised the C-grade boundary, grades in the qualification risked being out of line with those from other exam boards – meaning pupils taking the Edexcel paper may have had a better chance of passing than those taking AQA and OCR exams.
However, the letter shows, Pearson warned that raising the grade boundary was likely to “distort” results at individual schools by lowering their results this year. This was based on data from a sample of schools and colleges that had a similar cohort of pupils entering for the GCSE in both 2015 and 2016, known as “common centres”.
Exam board overruled
Ofqual overruled this concern, arguing that data from individual schools and colleges was less significant than the statistical predictions, based on pupils’ attainment at age 11, which are used to set grade boundaries under the “comparable outcomes” approach.
“We have carefully considered your argument that significant weight should be given to statistical evidence arising from ‘large stable common centres’,” Ms Collier’s letter said.
“We do not agree that greater weight should be given to this evidence than to [statistical] predictions… it has been Ofqual’s consistent position that greatest weight should be given to predictions based on key stage 2 attainment.”
The letter said that Ofqual was aware of the potential impact of raising the grade boundary on individual schools, but that this was not a “sufficient reason” not to raise the C grade boundary.
A Pearson spokesperson said: “We are confident in the rigorous processes we have in place to set grade boundaries each year, to ensure that students receive a fair result. Our subject and technical experts review the evidence and recommend where the grade boundaries should sit.
“These recommendations are then reviewed by Ofqual, alongside research and statistics from the other exam boards. We accepted the regulator’s judgement for GCSE maths, made with the additional evidence available to them.”