We bought a fridge from a well-known High Street retailer over the summer (yes, it’s a glamorous life). Our story is replicated up and down the country I’m sure, and fairly shabby it is: said fridge did not arrive as planned, assistants were feckless or helpless on the phone, and in the end I made a formal complaint. The whole paperwork was copied out to all parties, screenshots and text messages and all, and the nice Customer Service chap agreed to a fair but modest refund of delivery costs. Still slightly cross, I felt in the end that these things happen and at least it got dealt with. And we have our fridge. Finally.
At the same time as all of this, I was watching some of our candidates (including my 16 year old son) deal with GCSE results, for us this year a bit ... well, volatile would be the word. So, lots of re-mark requests. And here, we can compare and contrast with my fridge experience.
The first thing is, that our white-goods suppliers did not have the nerve to charge me money to make a complaint. Yet we meekly write cheques for exam boards for the privilege of requesting that they check a grade which is a) out of line with our prediction and b) out of line with the others of the cohort and c) not what they candidate thought they deserved. Why? Imagine if we charged parents for bringing complaints.
Then, get this for casuistry. If you are an A Level candidate, you have the right to see your (YOUR!) paper before deciding whether to ask for a re-mark. Not if you’re a GCSE candidate! Yes, you can ask for it back (‘for teaching and learning purposes’ say the Board), but only after the deadline for re-mark requests has passed. Ridiculous.
We had a lot of Edexcel IGCSE English results which were odd (and lower than expected). So, lots of re-marks. None changed that much ... correction, not one single raw score changed at all. Hardly credible that two separate judges of English writing could come to identical conclusions, is it? And now that the re-marks have been requested, the only further appeal ‘may only be on the basis of procedure’. So, not on the basis of incompetence, then, or misjudgement? Not that we could tell anyway because, you guessed it, we can’t see the papers.
Imagine saying to a class ‘here are your marks, but I’m not showing you the papers to illustrate how I arrived at them’. Imagine any complaints procedure in what people sometimes call the ‘real world’ which refused to question a manager’s judgment except on the basis of procedure, and which denied the plaintiff access to the evidence.
So here’s an idea. It’s not original: it was my son’s. Why can’t every public exam candidate get, with their results, their scanned scripts? All the papers and sample materials will be available anyway, and we could all see how good a job examiners do. With their mass-scanning centres and technology. I am sure boards could do it, and should want to, in the interests of showing off what they are always telling us is a good job done.
Funnily enough, despite frustrations, I will return to the retailer who (finally) delivered our new fridge. They’re a big company, and big companies will always get some things wrong, but they dealt with it well in the end: they didn’t hide, they listened.
Not sure we’ll stay with Edexcel IGCSE English though. In fact I am sure. We won’t.
By Chris Ramsey, headmaster The King's School, Chester and Chair of the HMC/GSA Universities Committee