Sharp fall in grade challenges after schools given free access to exam scripts

Edexcel sees a 528 per cent increase in schools accessing marked exam scripts after providing them free-of-charge.

Eleanor Busby

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Allowing schools to access marked exam scripts for free may have led to a sharp fall in the number of pupils challenging their grades, figures analysed by Tes suggest.

Edexcel this year became the first exam board to allow schools to access all marked GCSE and A-level exam papers free of charge, through a new online portal.

As a result, the exam board – run by education company Pearson – saw a 528 per cent increase in the number of its GCSE and A-level scripts downloaded by schools.

The move – which follows criticism from the sector about the cost that schools face for exam scripts – saw the number of exam papers being accessed rise from 68,954 in 2016 to 433,140 in 2017.

Schools normally request scripts, at a cost, to decide whether they are going to request a review of marking.

But making it easier to access the papers appears to have led to fewer requests for reviews.

The number of challenges to GCSE, AS and A-level grades for the exam board fell by 17 per cent – from 103,140 in summer 2016 to 85,905 this year, new Ofqual statistics show.

And yet, the total number of challenges to GCSE, AS and A-level grades increased by 6 per cent. A total of 369,215 grade challenges were made by schools in 2017, compared with 346,920 last year.

Hayley Read, head of assessment at Edexcel, said the free service was introduced to help schools “save a lot of money” by selecting which grades to challenge, at a time when resources are “tight”.

She said: “We were really eager to make that happen this summer given the amount of curriculum change – but also we have a real vested interest in helping teachers really understand the assessment requirements, increasing that transparency, and ultimately providing a greater confidence in the accuracy of marking.”

Ms Read added that the fall in requests was also due to greater confidence in the grading of Edexcel papers.

And she said that confidence had been boosted by Ofqual’s comment in a recent report which said Pearson had been “more successful” than others at embedding their rules for reviews of marking.

Under measures introduced by Ofqual last year, exam boards are only allowed to change a mark where there has been a “clear marking error”, rather than a difference of professional judgement.

But last week, Ofqual revealed that the total number of GCSE, AS and A-level grades changed after schools requested a review of marking had risen by 40 per cent compared to last year.

Yesterday, Sally Collier, chief regulator of Ofqual, said the original quality of marking was not to blame – adding that the problem was that some exam boards did not “follow the rules” on reviews.

The total number of GCSE grades changed after schools requested a review of marking rose by 52 per cent compared to last year. For Edexcel, it dropped by 7 per cent.

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Eleanor Busby

Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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