Exclusive: Ofqual investigating A-level maths grades

Regulator probing exam boards' decisions to make no changes to last year's grade boundaries. Hundreds of pupils could now get higher grades

Will Hazell

magnifying glass and papers

Ofqual is to investigate exam board grading of the controversial new maths A level, it was revealed this morning. 

The exam regulator has decided to act after it asked the boards to reconsider the boundaries they set last year and they decided not to make any changes.

Now it has decided to investigate each board's decision not to reopen the grading for 2018 despite the differences with this summer's grade boundaries.

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Tes understands that hundreds of students who sat the reformed qualification last year could have their grades upgraded following concerns that the grade boundaries were set too high. 

But many will already have university places they accepted on the basis of grades that may now turn out to be incorrect.

The exams regulator made the announcement this morning with controversy raging after lower than expected grade boundaries for the reformed qualification were leaked yesterday.

Ofqual said: “As part of our regular approach to maintaining standards, we monitor the setting of grade boundaries for every A level.

“We identified significant shifts in exam boards’ grade boundaries in reformed A-level maths between 2018 and 2019. While some fluctuation in boundaries is not uncommon, we considered these particular changes to be more unusual.”

The regulator views this year’s award as “sound” given the “much larger” cohort of 85,000 pupils who took the new maths A level.

But fewer than 2,000 students sat the exam in 2018, after just one year of teaching, mainly very able 17-year-olds going on to take further maths in 2019.

“We knew that this would make awarding in 2018 challenging, given the significant changes between the legacy and reformed specifications and the likely size and nature of the 2018 entry,” Ofqual said.

“While the 2018 grade boundaries seemed appropriate at the time, given the difference between the 2018 and 2019 grade boundaries we asked the exam boards to look again at last year’s awards before publishing this year’s results.”

"None of the exam boards believed there was compelling evidence to re-open its 2018 award.

"We want to understand why the grade boundaries were so different between the two years. We will investigate the full range of evidence from 2018 and 2019 that is now available.

"We will consider each exam board’s decision not to re-open the 2018 awards, taking into account the relative demand of their 2018 and 2019 papers and students’ performance in each year."

The investigation could result in some students getting their grades retrospectively changed.

While a large number of pupils who sat the reformed A level last year got the top grade, and a number chose to retake it this year, Tes understands several hundred students could get their grade changed.

However, many of these students will already have applied to university on the basis of the A level grades they already hold.

Tes understands there is no set timeline yet for when the Ofqual investigation will be complete. 


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Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

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