New data from Ofqual reveals the true extent of grading unreliability

1 December 2018
Posted by HMC Press Office

On 27.11.18, Ofqual published a series of documents outlining their research into quality of marking. This included a report entitled Marking Consistency Metrics; an update. Click here to access the report.

This report provides evidence that:

  • in some subjects, the chance of pupils sitting key GCSE, AS and A Level subjects in 2017 being awarded the definitive grade (or correct grade, in as far as it is the grade the Chief Examiner would have awarded) fell to below 60%
  • in History, only approx. 56% of candidates were awarded the correct grade
  • in English Literature, it was 58%
  • in Maths, 96%
  • overall, one in five grades awarded to boys were incorrect, and one in four of those awarded to girls.

HMC has campaigned since 2015 to ensure the true accuracy of grades is known, and transparent discussion of positive reform is commenced. Only then can every child pass safely through the exam system.

Commenting on the findings, Mike Buchanan, Executive Director of HMC, said:

“School heads are grateful to the exam regulator for responding to our request for information about the true reliability of exam grading.

“It is extremely worrying that around a quarter of exam grades are not reliable. This directly affects hundreds of thousands of young people every year. The unreliability is most extreme in the humanities, meaning that girls, who are the majority of those taking these subjects, are particularly disadvantaged.

“The implications are grave, as a questionable grade can have a significant effect on a pupil’s life chances in a high stakes exam-focused environment.

“Hundreds of thousands of children are being forced to retake English and Maths GCSE or may be missing out on university places or jobs because they did not get the grade.

“Grades are useful but clearly not definitive; they are much fuzzier than that. So we need better understanding of what they do, and don’t represent, and more sophisticated ways of coming to high-stakes judgements. Interviewing, and looking at a student’s all-round performance, are perhaps good ways of assessing a student’s suitability for the next stage of their education or career.

We look forward to working closely with Ofqual to improve understanding of examination grades and look at new ways of presenting pupils’ achievements.”