Don't blame us, Ofqual

30th November 2012 at 00:00

Our friends at Ofqual say it was the pressure - the unbearable, inconceivable pressure on English teachers - wot done it. The weight of getting our pupils that all-important C grade, says the exams regulator, turned us into rabid monsters, finding every way possible of cheating, of bumping up controlled assessment grades.

Black-market deals were done in stationery cupboards and corridors, where zombie teachers lurched towards unsuspecting pupils: learn or die, kids, learn or die.

To give it some credit, Ofqual makes a fair point here. The pressure placed on English teachers, and in all core subjects, to make sure pupils achieve a grade C is unsustainable. But to suggest that trained professionals would "duke the stats" by deliberately overmarking controlled assessments is outrageously insulting.

Does Ofqual think we're stupid? We know these marks are moderated. We know someone will look at them and we will be accountable. It is most certainly not rocket science. We have to have some trust in the exam board and moderators, because if we didn't the whole system would fall apart. And we wouldn't want that, would we?

For instance, take an exam board report published in June about English marking this summer: our controlled assessment marking was "accurate", our annotation "helpful", "comments were based on the mark scheme" and, most importantly, teachers were praised for applying the mark scheme in a "fair and accurate" way.

Hang on a minute. This means that the initial report before the GCSE fiasco didn't just say we did OK, it said we did great.

Seasons change, term begins and another report comes out examining the self-same moderation. This time, it's Ofqual's findings into GCSE grading-gate. But now our accuracy has magically and mysteriously vanished. Now Ofqual says there was "significant overmarking of controlled assessments to meet grade boundary targets".

I suspect that someone is trying to play a desperate game of "pin the tail on the teacher-donkey". But it needs to be made clear that we weren't the ones who put the ass in this assessment. Far from it. We're all about revision classes and intervention days and phone calls to parents. We're about marking and marking and marking. Then some more marking. We're about parents' evenings, reports, monitoring, data and progress.

Hopefully, among all this, there's some space for ideals and teaching, too, despite the system's best efforts to prise them from our clenched fists. What is at the very heart of this sad, sad tale? A system that is unfit for purpose. All the finger-pointing in the world can't hide it.

In fact, in a very strange way, I'm glad. I'm glad that this sorry excuse for a system has finally been shown up for the charlatan it is. If we are living in a world where the pressure placed on teachers to make pupils achieve a grade C can be acknowledged by a national exams regulator as something that could interfere with our professional judgement, isn't it time that someone actually looked at the inadequacies of that system?

Amy Winston teaches English in the West Midlands.

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