Appalling marking means pupils fail to make grade

The Times, 17/09/14, Richard Harman, Chairman of HMC and Headmaster of Uppingham School, warns that the quality of marking in this year's GCSEs and A levels was not good enough. HMC's Latymer Upper School and Reigate Grammar School are also quoted.

Head teachers of leading schools say that “appalling” standards of marking have left highly academic teenagers with poor results in this year’s GCSEs and A levels.

One pupil missed out on a university place after an examiner wrongly added up the marks in his French A-level paper. He is one of thousands of pupils whose exam results were found on re-marking to be inaccurate.

It raises fears about the low calibre of examiners and has led to speculation that exam boards are struggling to cope with more end-of-course marking, after the scrapping of modules in GCSEs.

Richard Harman, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents 260 leading independent schools, said that the quality of marking was not good enough.

He said that Ofqual, the exams regulator, had admitted that 6 per cent of examiners were inadequate, and calculated that they were responsible for almost a million scripts.

Mr Harman, the headmaster of Uppingham School in Rutland, said: “That’s 6 per cent too many, and equates to 950,000 exam scripts by my calculation. It’s far too high and means there are major problems for candidates. It’s not good enough in terms of standards of marking.”

He said the full impact of inaccurate marking on university entrance may not have been seen this year because universities had been allowed to recruit more students, whereas teenagers unfairly denied the right grades would have been turned away by the institutions of their choice in previous years.

At Reigate Grammar School in Surrey, 86 per cent of pupils achieved A* or A grade in GCSE English language, and 42 per cent were awarded those grades in English literature, even though the results are usually similar. Some pupils had been given grades two or three below those predicted, for example a C instead of an A*.

After more than 10 per cent of the English literature papers were sent back and found to be wrong, the exam board recalled the whole cohort of 132 exams.

One pupil at Latymer Upper School in West London was turned down by Durham University after he was awarded a B in French, when one of his papers was rated a D grade. When the school asked to see his exam paper, they found that the marks had been added up wrongly, by 20 marks, and that he should have received an A grade. By then Durham had withdrawn its offer and he will now go to his second choice university.

David Goodhew, the head, said: “We requested 206 re-marks at A level, compared with 127 last year. Of the 148 exams we have received back, the marks were increased in 55 of them, and 22 have resulted in overall grade changes. Parents are annoyed and we will be putting in an official complaint.”

Duncan Byrne, deputy head at Cheltenham College, said that it had particular marking problems with the English language iGCSE.

By Nicola Woolcock. Read the full article © The Times (subscription may be required)