Surge in schools challenging GCSE and A-level marks due to 'unprecedented anxiety'

Eleanor Busby

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Challenges to GCSE and A-level grades rose by more than a quarter last summer, the exam regulator Ofqual revealed today.

More than 572,000 challenges were made by schools in 2015, up from 451,000 last year, it said.

The new figures also show that more than 90,000 GCSE and A-level results were changed after schools demanded remarks – up from 77,400 last year.

But the proportion of challenges which actually resulted in a grade change actually dipped slightly, from 18.7 to 17.9 per cent.

Chief regulator Glenys Stacey blamed the surge of enquiries on “an unprecedented level of anxiety in schools” fuelled by accountability pressures and the linear model for qualifications.

Ofqual has launched a consultation today to review the exam appeals process, following the sharp rise in the number of grades being challenged by schools.

Headteachers have welcomed the launch of the consultation – but have raised concerns about today’s results. Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned that the increase in regrades strongly suggests that the marking system "is creaking under the strain.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of headteachers' union the NAHT, added that the increase in enquiries from schools was "a concern". He said: “We need a system that gets more exam grades right first time, not one that needs to be continually challenged”.

Chris King, chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), said: "Every child sitting an exam deserves to trust that their paper will be marked accurately. So it is very disappointing to see yet another huge upsurge in false GCSE and A-level grades.

“Worryingly, the true statistics are likely to be even higher, as we know many state schools do not have the time and resources to put in lengthy, complicated and expensive appeals. That is why HMC is working with them and trying to help improve exam setting and marking for all pupils.”

If Ofqual’s proposals go ahead, then from summer next year:

  • Schools will be able to request to see marked GCSE exam scripts, as well as A-level exam scripts, before deciding if they want them to be reviewed.
  • Papers will be reviewed by markers specifically trained to review someone else’s marking.
  • Marks will only be changed when there is an error in applying the mark scheme or in counting the marks (a system error). These are classed as "genuine marking errors".
  • If there is a legitimate difference of opinion between two markers then the original mark will still stand.

At a briefing this morning, Ms Stacey stressed: "There will be mistakes – we can't deny that. What we are all about here is trying to drive down mistakes and part of that is identifying them, separating them from these other issues around legitimate judgment."

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Eleanor Busby

Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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