HMC/GSA Open letter to UCAS re CIE IGCSE English candidates applying to HE through UCAS in 2016/17

Today (22.04.16), HMC and GSA are publishing an 'open' letter to University admissions officials UCAS and the Medical Schools Council stating that results of an IGCSE examination are not to be trusted by university admissions tutors when choosing candidates for 2016/17. 


18th April, 2016

Dear Mary,

CIE IGCSE in First Language English: 2015 candidates applying to HE through UCAS in 2016/17

We are taking the highly unusual step of writing to you to advise that, following the publication last week of a detailed technical report, our two Associations do not have confidence in the grades awarded in 2015 in the IGCSE qualification in First Language English set by Cambridge International Examinations.

We are attaching a copy of this report and a synopsis of it so that you are aware of the empirical basis of our professional judgement in this matter.  You will see that there is particular doubt as to the reliability of the A/B boundary, with its knock-on impact on the A/A* boundary.  The report has been written by Dr Peter Mason, former Chair of the HMC/GSA Academic Policy Committee.   Dr Mason, now retired, has extensive experience as a senior examiner and as a former member of the governing council of one of England's leading examination boards.   Also enclosed with this letter is a brief summary of the main findings which are based on grade patterns awarded to over one quarter of all of the candidates entered for the 0500 syllabus version of this qualification.

You may also wish to note that the Acting General Secretary of ASCL, Malcom Trobe, has commented on behalf of 200,000 state school candidates that: “thanks to this valuable new research we can see that school leaders in both independent and state schools were entirely right to doubt the accuracy of many of the grades awarded by Cambridge for its English Language IGCSE in 2015.”   ASCL believes that ‘several thousand’ state school candidates are affected.

The upshot is that we are very concerned that a large number of pupils in both independent and state schools who sat this qualification last summer may, on the basis of a false grade, be denied entry to highly competitive undergraduate programmes where a specific IGCSE/GCSE grade in English such as A or A* is an entry requirement.

Since last summer, many of our Members have proceeded through the entire enquiries and appeals process with CIE on behalf of their candidates and have come away feeling that justice had not been done.  In parallel, representatives of our two associations have had extensive discussions with senior CIE staff in order to alert them to the scale of incredulity felt in our schools about the grades handed down for this qualification.

In the light of the exam board declining to review the grades awarded following publication of Dr Mason’s report, and of a public response to the report by Ofqual that we consider flawed and unconvincing, we will be advising schools to draw admissions tutors’ attention to our concerns in the UCAS reference for affected candidates who go on to apply for higher education in the 2016/17 applications round.

We would be more than happy discuss this matter with you further so, should you or your colleagues require additional information, please let us know.  We have written a similar letter today to Dr Katie Petty-Saphon, Chief Executive of the Medical Schools Council.

This email is being accompanied by an equivalent postal letter to you, a copy of which we intend to put up on our websites on Thursday 21 April.  As it is, in effect, an “open” letter we will be sharing it with media over the next few days, embargoed until 00.01 on Thursday 21 April.  We believe that this course of action is entirely justified and we do not feel that it compromises the integrity of UCAS in any way.

Yours sincerely,

Christopher King Caroline Jordan
Chris King signature Caroline Jordan signature
Chairman, HMC President, GSA

cc: Helen Thorne, UCAS

Click here to download the letter.