Schools have spent thousands of pounds hiring external moderators to reassess coursework grades amid concerns they have been wrongly marked down.

Three schools in the north east of England called in the independent markers as they prepare to mount a challenge against iGCSE English language grades.

None wanted to be named, but one school admitted that it had spent £3,000. A fourth school called in retired former heads of departments to reassess work.

Paula Goddard, a senior examiner and exam writer, said she had never heard of any schools taking such steps before.

“But I’m not surprised, with the high stakes nature of all exam results and the increasing percentages of candidates that are being re-marked.

“This is just the next stage of schools starting to question the whole assessment strategy. It could be the beginning of a trend.”

The disclosures came to light in a submission by SCHOOLS NorthEast, seen by Schools Week, to the education committee for its one-off evidence session into the work of Ofqual.

The body, set up by headteachers, represents 1,250 schools in the north east of England.

Twenty per cent of the region’s secondaries responded to a call for evidence on the volatility in exam assessment this summer.

Schools reported coursework grading concerns in Cambridge International Examinations’ (CIE) English Language iGCSE.

One school claimed that only seven candidates’ work – out of a cohort of 260 – were used to assess English coursework.

Mike Parker, SCHOOLS NorthEast director, said the schools found the external assessors gave the re-marked work the same grade as teachers.

He said they would use the evidence to challenge the grades, which they were now appealing.

CIE said it was confident in its marking. A spokesperson for the exam board said it used small samples, but would ask for a larger sample if inconsistencies were found.

“We believe this is a fair approach to the assessment of candidates’ coursework.”

She said external moderators had not been trained to apply the agreed national standard and paying them could raise questions about their impartiality.