14 Sep '13

News School run by 'visionary superhead' is investigated for mark fixing

Qualifications body EdExcel seizes more than 200 coursework files at south London's Ravens Wood School

A school whose "superhead" was described by the education secretary, Michael Gove, as a visionary is under investigation after allegations that reports of pupils' performance were falsified. Insiders claim that teachers' assessments of work by more than 200 students were changed before being handed over to the body that awards qualifications. Marks were boosted to make the performance of the pupils – and the school – look better, they say .

The executive principal of the school, Ravens Wood in Bromley, south London, is Professor Sir George Berwick CBE, who received his knighthood this year for services to education. Last Friday, a letter was sent to parents saying that Berwick had "reached retirement age and will officially retire on 10 October 2013". He was a pioneer of the idea of "teaching schools" – described by the Department for Education as giving "outstanding schools a leading role in the training and professional development of teachers". Berwick's personal website says he has worked with the Cabinet Office and Department for Education.

EdExcel, the body that awards qualifications, is investigating the claims. The trust that oversees Ravens Wood said it is co-operating fully with EdExcel and is carrying out its own inquiry. The investigation is focusing on assignments by pupils studying for a BTec qualification in information and communications technology. BTecs are awarded solely on the basis of coursework and do not involve any externally marked exams. Teachers mark pupils' work and hand their results to senior school staff, who forward them to the qualifications body.

EdExcel staff visited Ravens Wood at the end of last term and demanded to see the coursework files of a sample of the students. It is thought that this move followed a tipoff. According to sources within Ravens Wood, the EdExcel team was told to wait while school staff printed off material submitted by high-achieving students and put it into the files of others whose work was either poor or nonexistent. The school's governing trust refused to comment on the allegation. After speaking to staff, EdExcel took away the coursework files of all 200-plus ICT BTec students.

Before EdExcel arrived, at least one member of the school's senior management team had been told that teachers' assessments had allegedly been falsified, according to sources within the school. No action was taken. The Ravens Wood trust refused to comment.

Ravens Wood has 1,400 pupils, with boys only in the lower school but a mixed sixth form. Alumni include musicians David Bowie and Peter Frampton and the writer Hanif Kureishi.

Pearson, the parent company of EdExcel, confirmed that Ravens Wood is being investigated, with teachers interviewed last week. The company said: "We take any allegation of malpractice extremely seriously and will always take appropriate action, in the interests of fairness for all learners, when such incidents are discovered."

The EdExcel investigation follows a separate Ofsted inspection of Ravens Wood in June. Ofsted normally publishes its reports within 15 days of an inspection, but says that "where a school has been judged 'inadequate', the report is usually published within 28 working days". The timetable is extended only in "exceptional circumstances". It is now more than two months since the June inspection took place.

After the two-day June inspection, Ofsted's representatives voiced concerns about standards of teaching. Berwick told members of staff that he would be challenging the Ofsted inspection, and Ravens Wood's governing trust has confirmed that it has lodged a formal complaint about the way the inspection team carried out its work, "asking for publication of the report to be postponed, pending the outcome of an investigation into the complaint". Berwick was not available for comment.

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