Exclusive: 'Raise exam fees to fund free appeals'

Ofqual should increase exam costs and make grade reviews free - to remove wealthy parents' advantage, say private school heads

Catherine Lough

GCSE results: Ofqual should make grade appeals free - to remove the advantage enjoyed by wealthy families, says respected independent schools leader

Ofqual should raise the cost of exams slightly in all subjects so that exam grade queries are “free at the point of use”, a respected former independent school head has said.

Mike Buchanan, director of the Headmasters’ and Headmistress’ Conference (HMC) and former head of Ashford School in Kent, has said the cost of querying results should be funded by increasing the cost of exams across all subjects.

In a blog published by HMC this month, he said the current system – whereby parents pay for a review of grades – left some “victims” undetected with the wrong grades because of “inadequate funding”.

Related: To query or not to query? That is the exams question

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Speaking to Tes, Mr Buchanan said there needed to be a “fairer way” for candidates to query their grades.

GCSE results: 'Unfair' review process

“I certainly think there should be a fairer way for candidates to query results, and the best way of doing that is to make it as easy as possible for all candidates, shifting the burden of costs away from candidates,” he said.

“Ofqual could do this by increasing the cost of exams slightly for all subjects."

Under the current system, the burden of cost for exam grade reviews is passed on to parents, Mr Buchanan said.

This meant that – regardless of school type – only pupils with more affluent parents could afford to challenge their grades. In the independent sector, he said schools would only cover a student querying their grade if they were on a high-level bursary, or if they wanted to challenge multiple results.

“Ofqual has created a disincentive for students to query their results," he said. "I am interested in what is fairest for the individual, and I think, like the NHS, this should be free at the point of use.”

He said Ofqual did not seem to prioritise what was fair to the individual and was more concerned by “system stability and public confidence”.

Mr Buchanan said potential grading inaccuracies would not be a problem if they were not part of a high-stakes accountability culture.

“It wouldn’t matter if someone gets a 3 when they should get a 4, except in the system we have, that means someone doesn’t get the job or the course they want, or it means headteachers getting sacked over this,” he said.

Last year a report an Ofqual marking consistency report sparked concerns that in some subjects, where marking can be subjective, up to 40 per cent of grades awarded are “wrong”.

In the HMC blog, Mr Buchanan said “fuzziness” around grade boundaries represented “an unacceptable state of affairs".

"Behind these statistics are millions of teenagers already under extreme pressure and whose exam grades are being used to make life-changing decisions,” he wrote.

“Furthermore, the system does not encourage families or schools to question the validity of their grades. Inadequate funding in schools and the inability of some parents to pay for reviews of grades means that most of these victims will be undetected or forgotten.”

A spokesperson for Ofqual said: "The exam boards have sophisticated marker-monitoring systems in place and it is recognised that the quality of marking in England is among the best in the world. 

"However, we are not complacent and we are committed to working with others in the sector to make marking in every subject the very best it can be."

They pointed out that schools are only charged for marking reviews if the grade remains unchanged, and that in 2018, just 1.1 per cent of all GCSE grades were changed following a review.

Ofqual also said that in over three-quarters of reviews last year, the original grade was upheld.


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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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