Exam marking reforms will cost pupils their university places, headteachers say

TES, 18.03.16, thousands of pupils could be harmed by “fundamentally flawed” proposals that would make it harder for schools to successfully challenge “suspect” GCSE and A-level grades, headteachers are warning. HMC and NAHT's joint response to Ofqual proposals on EARs, appeals and the abolition of the Code of Practice is referenced. 

Two leading heads’ groups from the state and independent sectors are urging exams regulator Ofqual to drop proposed changes they describe as “unpersuasive, misdirected and likely to make the current unsatisfactory situation worse”.

But exam boards have hit back, defending their “world-class” markers, and claiming that schools have misunderstood the system.

Ofqual has proposed that the boards should be able to raise a pupil’s GCSE or A-level grade following a school’s challenge only if a second examiner finds that the original mark was not “reasonable”.

But the NAHT headteachers’ union and the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents leading independent schools, argue that the test of reasonableness is a “low bar” for marking accuracy that will make challenges harder.

'Not fair on candidates'

The heads say the measure “loads the dice unfairly against candidates who may have been marked poorly”, adding that a proper re-mark is “the only credible response to a query about marking accuracy”.

Last year, more than 90,000 GCSE and A-level grades were changed following challenges in this way – the highest number on record, and a 17 per cent rise from the previous year.

The heads’ groups argue that, given this rise in changed marks, it would be “perverse” for Ofqual reforms to effectively put more trust in boards’ original marks.

But Michael Turner, director general of the Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents the exam boards, said: “It’s disappointing that some organisations have decided to undermine the tens of thousands of teachers who, each year, mark exam papers to a world-class standard.

“Where grades change, most are due to a legitimate difference in the two examiners’ judgements and this is often found in subjects like English or history where there’s a level of interpretation. It’s a misunderstanding of the system to claim this equals poor marking.”

Read more © TES