Ofqual boss 'disappointed' by surge in GCSE grade changes, and 4 other things we learned today

Ofqual chief regulator Sally Collier and chair Roger Taylor appeared in front of MPs in the Commons Education Select Committee today. Here's what we learned:

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1. Ofqual is 'disappointed' by the rise in GCSE grades being changed after re-marks

Sally Collier, the chief regulator of Ofqual, told MPs this morning that it was "very disappointed" by the surge in the GCSE grades changed on re-mark.

She added that there was an "intensive period of evaluation" as to why it happened, which concluded that the original quality of marking was not to blame. 

Ms Collier said, however, that there was a problem with the reviewing, as some exam boards did not follow the exam regulator's rules.

Ofqual is looking at what needs to be done for the “immediate re-marking” of the GCSE resits that happened in November.

Ms Collier told MPs: “I wouldn’t be able to talk about the specific regulatory action that we’re taking with the exam boards that didn’t follow our rules, but we will ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

2. Ofqual will look at 'red alert' system for extreme re-mark cases

Robert Halfon, chair of the select committee, asked if there should be a red alert system for "extreme cases" where someone who is predicted a high mark but does badly is automatically given a re-mark.

In response to the chairman's question, Ms Collier said: "That is certainly something we can look at."

It came after a discussion on the cost of re-marks, in which Ms Collier admitted that there is "a risk" for schools and parents if they ask for a paper to be re-marked – as they could face a cost if the grade doesn't change. 

However, Roger Taylor, chair of Ofqual, said the changes brought in last year, which only allow a mark to be changed where there has been a “clear marking error”, rather than a difference of professional judgement, should prevent schools from getting "an advantage" from being able to buy a re-mark. 

3. A cap on exam paper writers from independent schools is an 'interesting idea'

Emma Hardy, MP for Hull West and Hessle, asked whether there was something that Ofqual could do to limit the number of people who write exam papers coming from particular independent schools. 

Mr Taylor said: "I think this is another really interesting idea that we should take away."

The debate follows Ofqual's call for evidence about serving teachers who set exam papers, following claims some have leaked questions to their students.

Eton College's deputy headmaster left the school in the summer amid claims he leaked questions from a Pre-U economics exam, following an investigation by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). 

When Ms Collier was asked by Mr Halfon whether she was satisfied with CIE, she said: "We are closely monitoring what they did over the summer. [...] We have ongoing regulatory action."

4. The rise in unconditional offers from universities is a 'concern'

Mr Taylor told the education select committee that the surge in unconditional offers for higher education was a "concern". 

Ucas figures last week revealed that this year there were 51,615 unconditional offers made – a 40 per cent increase on 2016.

Speaking to MPs this morning, Mr Taylor said the reports of the rise were "an issue of concern" to the exams regulator. 

He said: "From Ofqual's point of view, it becomes particularly concerning at the point that it dramatically affects pupils' motivation and the way that they approach qualifications. That can actually undermine the validity of the qualification."

Mr Taylor added that he did not believe they were at that point yet – but the exams regulator needed to keep "a close eye on" it.

5. There is a lack of awareness of new tests introduced this year

On the new 9 to 1 GCSE grades, which were first awarded in maths and English in the summer, Ms Collier said: "It will take some time for every employer in the country to understand 9 to 1."

But she added that the exams regulator has seen "significant improvements in awareness". 

The Ofqual representatives were also challenged on the lack of public awareness of the national reference test, which is a pupil-performance test sat for the first time in February this year. 

It could be used in the future to bring to an end an effective national freeze on significant rises in exam grades.

But Ms Collier said she was "not hugely surprised" that only 2 per cent of the public knew what the national reference test was.  

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