The Telegraph, 01.08.15, independent schools increasingly alarmed as A-level results day expected to lead to another sharp increase in appeals against grades. Peter Hamilton, Chair of HMC's Academic Policy Committee and headmaster of Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School is quoted.
Hundreds of A-level grades are “guesstimated” each year, exam boards have admitted, as private schools warn that pupils’ futures are being put at risk by a growing marking crisis.
Independent schools are growing increasingly alarmed before A-level results day, which is expected to lead to another sharp increase in appeals against grades.
There are fears of administrative chaos, as changes to the exam system have led to a shortage of qualified markers. The Telegraph has established that the country’s leading exam boards have quietly introduced a system to “estimate” grades in cases where papers have “gone missing”.
It is understood that this policy was introduced to avoid students having to resit papers.
The disclosure added to concern among leading schools that exam boards may be cutting corners as they struggle to process results in time for university admissions. Peter Hamilton, of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents independent schools, said the discovery of boards using “guesswork” was “disturbing”.
“Pressures on exam boards following constant changes by the Government to course regulations and timing of exams has made accurate, timely marking hard to manage,” he said. “It is also difficult to recruit sufficient high quality examiners. However, young people are reliant on accurate grades issued at the right time to get into top universities and this has the potential to ruin a student’s life chances.”
Sources confirmed that the practice of estimating a grade on papers that get lost had been used for a number of years as a “quick fix”, and was likely to continue.
OCR has said papers go missing every year and when they do exam boards estimate the grades if the student has taken most of the exams and it is done “for the benefit of the student”.
Mark Dawe, the chief executive of the OCR board, said: “We [mark] three million papers and papers will get lost in the post or they will get put in wrong envelopes. That happens every year with every exam board and that’s where the estimated grade comes in.”
“What we don’t want to be doing is punishing the child for an administrative error. It might be the school, it could be us… we have so many processes in place … sometimes [a paper] is lost and no one knows where it’s got lost. All sorts of things could cause that.
“If there is enough there to enable us to award [a grade], we will do so. But we are not going to do it for large numbers and there has to be a valid excuse to do so.”
The admission comes amid a crisis in confidence over exam marking, with appeals against GCSE and A-level results reaching record levels last year. More than 450,000 appeals were lodged by schools, an increase of almost 50 per cent in 12 months. The number of grades changed was 45,500.
A report from Ofqual, the exam regulator, found that 99.9 per cent of A-levels were graded by examiners last year. However, that means that more than 200 grades were awarded where not all exam papers were marked, the HMC estimates. An Ofqual spokesman said: “Very small numbers of script marks can, and are, estimated by all boards each year in some very specific circumstances.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “An estimated mark should only be provided when there are exceptional circumstances, such as when a pupil is ill.”
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