Legal Challenge to GCSE Grading Launched

Lewisham council, supported by a coalition of more than 150 other local authorities, schools, head teachers and students, has started legal action against exam regulator Ofqual and exam bodies AQA and Edexcel. We are challenging them over the GCSE English exam results, and are seeking the urgent regrading of the June exam papers inline with the papers taken by students in January this year.

We have taken this step on behalf of the 163 pupils in Lewisham left with a D grade who, had they sat the exam in January, would have received a C. It is rare that the council takes this sort of action but the scale of the injustice suffered by many Lewisham students has left us with no alternative and I am pleased that so many others from across the country have joined us in this challenge. The fact that students in Wales have already had their papers regraded adds to the unfairness. The administration in Wales recognised the importance of making an intervention to put an end to the debacle while students in England continue to suffer because of the mistakes of examining bodies. In Lewisham, we have been working with schools and colleges since GCSE results day to identify all pupils affected. We have worked with head teachers to ensure they were not prevented from attending the sixth forms of their choice.

You may wonder why, if the pupils have got their places in sixth form, we are pursuing this action however those affected will have to re-take their English GCSE in November. In many instances, re-sit classes are already full and colleges are struggling to meet demand. In some instances, pupils have the prospect of taking an exam set by a different exam board, cramming two years of work into just three months. Those affected will continue to be unfairly disadvantaged as through the rest of their education as they compete with their peers for university places and jobs. Faced with this injustice, it is only right that we as a council should stand alongside teachers, schools and parents to correct it. Ofqual have admitted they made a mistake. It is time for them to be fair to our young people and regrade the June exams.

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Ready for School!

The beginning of September brings with it the start of a new school year. Shoes are polished, uniforms are crisp and pens are at the ready. But it is not just the pupils and teachers that have been preparing for the new term. This summer, building work has been taking place across the borough to expand and improve school facilities on a record number of sites.

Thanks to Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme, five of Lewisham’s secondary schools are opening new buildings this month. I was given a tour of them last week and was impressed by what I saw. I must give thanks to everyone who has been involved in making this happen not least the teachers who were busy unpacking boxes! These are buildings of high quality, which will no doubt provide the learning environment that the children of the borough deserve. The new building at Prendergast Vale stands out. The school incorporates the old Lewisham Bridge Primary, and will provide education for pupils from 3 to 16. The old Lewisham Bridge building was listed by English Heritage following a campaign by local residents and had to be retained in the site. This challenged the architects to produce a modern, state of the art building which complemented new with the old. I’m delighted with the results and I’m sure children will enjoy their new facilities. But it is not just secondary schools that will see new buildings opening.

Primary schools across Lewisham have had development taking place over the summer and many new classrooms will be opening in time for the new term. Not all of these are permanent places, with some primary schools taking on ‘bulge’ classes where an additional 30 pupils are taken on for one year’s intake only. The need to provide additional primary school places comes as a result of a boom in the number of five year olds living in the borough. In response, we have created 24 additional forms of entry for 2012/13 on top of the 19 new classes we created for 2011/12.

This year’s new primary places were the second highest in London. Lewisham, along with other authorities, have provided the new primary places without receiving enough support from central government. The Department for Education has ignored the growing school age population and instead prioritised their ‘Free Schools’. Young people will always be one of my priorities as Mayor. Ensuring that they have the best possible facilities to learn has been a long term focus of mine and I’m pleased that years of hard work on this are finally coming to fruition.

Building Affordable Homes in Lewisham

Last year saw more than 850 new affordable homes completed in Lewisham, the third highest in the country. This is very good news and will go some way to alleviating the housing crisis we face in London. Yet even this increase will not ensure a home for all of those in need. 

I’m determined to do more. Earlier on this year I took the decision to build 250 new council homes over the next five years. This is the first time for 30 years that the council will build homes ourselves. I hope it will be the beginning of a larger programme, but much will depend on the response to the Housing Matters consultation which takes place this autumn. 

Making housing a priority in Lewisham has enabled us to deliver large numbers of new homes for people in the borough. Working closely with housing associations and developers, we have been able to bringing in the necessary funding and identify sites which are suitable for development. 

It came as no surprise to learn over the summer that Labour councils are delivering more homes than our Tory and Liberal Democrat colleagues. In London, Labour led councils are giving housing policy the attention it desperately needs and are unwavering in their desire to address the capitals housing shortage. 

The Tory Mayor of London does at least recognise the challenge that we face. I will be working with him on the Homes for London board to encourage more to be built right across the capital. Housing is a London wide issue and must homes be dealt with effectively at a city level.