In 1996, as the GCSE exam results became known, I was stunned to find that the marks I had awarded for coursework in the Midland Examining Board's home economics "textiles" 1627 had been drastically reduced. From 160 possible marks, some of my pupils had lost 56 marks.
This was so unusual, that I had to find out what had gone wrong.
I spoke of my concerns to another teacher locally, and discovered that her coursework marks had been reduced in a similar way. More importantly, the "reports to centre on coursework moderation" sheets that had been returned to us by the moderator had exactly the same comments. We were left with the thought that not only had we both made a terrible mess of our teaching and marking, but we had also both made the same mistakes.
This seemed suspicious, so I compiled a questionnaire, and posted it off to other schools locally. Without exception, where the schools had followed this same subject with the same board, not only had the coursework marks been reduced, but the teachers, now across two counties, had all made the same mistakes.
My questionnaire went further afield, and revealed some 30 schools involved in this absurd situation. I decided to go to the Midland Examining Group with my concerns. I was ignored.
In February 1997, The TES published an article outlining our concerns. I began to receive more complaints from schools about the Midland Examining Group.
In March, our local TV channel featured schools with this problem, interviewing teachers and pupils and local newspapers picked up the story. Now I got a response from the Midland Group.
The chief executive, Dr Ron McLone, contacted me, and "investigated" the 1996 exam results. Our hopes were raised, but in vain. The report arrived. It was a complete whitewash. In spite of repeated requests for further information, I have been ignored.
Over the past few months, I have discovered other schools and other subjects received similar treatment from the Midland Group. At the beginning of December I was offered an appointment at the Department for Education and Employment with a GCSE co-ordinator to discuss the problem. I went to the offices in London, with another aggrieved teacher.
Again, our hopes were not to be realised. It seems that although our comments and complaints were to be noted for the future, the DFEE had no powers to correct any wrong-doings in the past. The Independent Appeals Authority for School Examination was a final resort and that failed to achieve justice. There was nowhere else to go. The DFEE has no powers to insist that IAASE's recommendations be carried out.
The GCSE co-ordinator did say that the information we had passed on would be useful, though, so I thought it would be even more useful if a national centre could be opened, to keep records of all problems with exam boards.
If anyone has any concerns about the way GCSE or A-level exams have been marked, then please let me know. Write to SUE (Schools United for a more accountable Examination system).
11 Tyrrel Road