IT WAS good but it could have been so much better.

Those were the feelings of head teachers across the south today as the results of last year’s GCSE examinations were published.

They show students are continuing to improve across the board.

But while the achievement is being celebrated, a deep sense of injustice still hangs over the marks.

The legal challenge over how grades were distributed in last year’s English exams is still being considered by the courts but for now the schools most badly affected will have to live with a set of results that they feel do not accurately reflect the hard work put in by students and staff.

The row is over whether students who sat the English exam in June received lower grades than their peers who sat the exam in January.

Schools argue that it has meant fewer students being awarded a valuable C grade which is one of the key indicators they are judged by.

According to them the grade boundaries were changed for a C award in respect of the foundation qualification for English by between 10 and 12 per cent between the January and June exams.

It meant that Hampshire registered a negligible dip in performance with 59 per cent of students achieving the benchmark figure of five A* to C grades including maths and English, compared with 60.8 per cent last year.

That is in the face of a national increase of ???.

In Southampton where performance has gone from rock bottom to within touching distance of the national average, teachers were hoping for a “big leap” up the league tables with forecasts predicting record-breaking progress.

The city recorded a respectable 2.7 per cent increase in the benchmark figure with 54.4 per cent of students attaining five A* to C grades including maths and English.

But according to teaching leaders, that figure could have been as much as a ten per cent increase.

Head teacher of St George’s Catholic School in Swaythling, Southampton, Graham Wilson, said: “We were looking to take a major step forward this year in Southampton but this whole situation has meant we are not where we thought we would be.

“Having said that it is a testimony to the hard work of schools and teachers that we are still going in the right direction and above the national figure.

“We realised something was wrong and it was too late to do anything about it. We feel like we have been treated like balls in some sort of game.

“It was students who were right on the margins that this affected most.

Borderline C or D grades, students who may not have had many successes in life and have walked away from their GCSEs thinking perhaps they have been let down by the education system.”

Ruth Evans, head of Cantell School in Bassett, added: “Ultimately as a city we beat our target on the headline figure on which we are judged.

“But had it not been for the boundary changes we would have been nearer 60 per cent but it is still on the right upwards trajectory.”

Ofqual, the examinations regulator, has maintained that the grading in June was correct.

The legal challenge has been lodged at the High Court and has been backed by Southampton City Council where they believe 130 youngsters were affected. Councillor Sarah Bogle, Southampton City Council’s Cabinet member for children’s services and learning, said: “It’s a real shame that the GCSE English marking fiasco has overshadowed these achievements.

This has had a real impact on the futures of dozens of Southampton pupils who didn’t get the results they were expecting or indeed deserved.

Southampton schools would have doubtless performed even better overall had this been managed fairly.

“Despite this, the council remains proud of the improvements in the educational outcomes for children and young people which have been achieved over recent years and we look forward to continuing our mission to become a learning city.

“I congratulate all the pupils who have worked so hard to achieve these results and wish them every success in what they choose to do next.”

One school to suffer the biggest impact of the boundary changes was The Mountbatten School in Romsey.

Their performance dipped from 78 per cent of pupils achieving the benchmark to 69 per cent.

The results of 40 pupils whose grades are now subject to the judicial review, had led to a 14 per cent difference in their results.

Director of English Ian Dunn said the pupils had suffered as a result of sitting the foundation exam in June and as a result they were entering more pupils in January exams as well as those in June.

“We are nervous about the grading after the experience this year. But we are continuing to do our utmost for every pupil. “The school is not just about figures, we are about making sure that every individual achieves the best they can for themselves.”

Councillor Roy Perry, Hampshire County Council’s executive lead member for children’s services said: “As an authority we have vigorously lobbied Ofqual about the English grade boundary changes and supported those of our schools who wished to register their dissatisfaction.

We await with interest the outcome of the judicial review into the matter.

“While I support the efforts of the Secretary of State for Education to make the examination system more rigorous, fair and consistent we cannot have a situation again where some pupils are disadvantaged through inconsistencies in the grading of examinations.

"I am pleased to see that, despite the issues this year with the English GCSE grade boundary changes midway through the school year which have yet to be satisfactorily resolved, H a m p s h i r e pupils’ performance at GCSE compares well with national averages, with 59 per cent achieving the gold standard of five or more GCSEs at A*-C grades including English and mathematics.

“I wish to congratulate pupils and schools on their good results which are testimony to the high quality of teaching in Hampshire schools which was also reflected in the excellent KS2 results reported earlier this month.”