Ofqual chief wrong-footed in marking row

27th March 2009 at 00:00
Regulator says Sats errors reflect difference in expert judgment familiar to public through Strictly

The public does not believe the errors that led to nearly half of pupils being given the wrong exam grade are a scandal, according to the exams regulator.

Isabel Nisbet, acting chief executive of Ofqual, said that because of TV programmes like Strictly Come Dancing, which highlight variations in experts' judgments, the public understands and expects problems to occur in marking tests.

But her remarks have been described as naive, patronising and demeaning by a teachers' leader.

Last week, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority released research indicating that only 55 per cent of 14-year-olds taking the English writing test in 2007 would have been awarded the correct grade.

Ms Nisbet said: "People don't believe that it is a scandal that there is variability in marking of extended English answers. They understand that that is what you would expect.

"You just need to watch Strictly Come Dancing to see the variability of some of the judgments of experts. So people do understand that."

But her views seem at odds with those of Ofqual chair Kathleen Tattersall, who last week said of the QCA research on marking: "The high level of misclassification in English suggests significant cause for concern."

Ms Nisbet said she based her conclusions on findings from focus groups that Ofqual set up last year.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "That is incredibly patronising and naive. The fact that nearly half of pupils appear to have been given the wrong level must be a huge concern to the children, whose school careers could be blighted, to the parents, and to the teachers, whose performance management is increasingly based on the levels pupils achieve.

"Strictly Come Dancing is good entertainment, but the test levels that pupils achieve affect their lives. To compare the two is demeaning."

Last week, the QCA released figures from marking checks carried out in last year's tests, which it warned were not as reliable as the 2007 study because the papers sample was not as representative.

They suggested a third of those taking key stage 3 English reading tests in 2008 were given the wrong grade and that only 64 per cent of those sitting KS3 English writing got the correct one.

At KS2, the checks suggested that 22 per cent of English writing papers got the wrong grade, and 13 per cent of those for English reading.

Edexcel, the exam board that ran the tests in 2007, said the QCA study from that year was flawed, misleading and did not reflect the results actually given to schools.

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