The “automatic protection” that safeguards pupils’ GCSE and A-level grades from going down when schools appeal against coursework results is being lost under controversial new measures from Ofqual, TES can reveal.
The exam watchdog’s overhaul of the appeals system will also allow the grades of scores of other pupils to drop after results day – even though they did not appeal – because of a challenge to coursework marks from another school. These previously little-noticed aspects of Ofqual’s reforms have infuriated teachers, who were already angered by the regulator’s decision to make it harder to successfully appeal against exam results by restricting changes to “clear marking errors”.
Now they say that there will be an even greater disincentive to challenge inaccurate and unfair results.
The changes come because of the way that Ofqual will treat appeals against the moderation of controlled assessment from this summer. The watchdog will, for the first time, allow grades to fall in these circumstances if the moderator was too lenient.
That means schools face a significant new risk in appealing.
Ofqual says grades could fall in every school in which the moderator had made the same error, meaning many pupils’ results could be at risk – even if their schools had not appealed.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said: “Are we now saying that all grades are only a draft? It appears Ofqual is doing everything in its power to stop schools from appealing against their pupils’ results.
“It needs to consider the impact of this on pupils’ futures. They may have already started on courses that depended on them getting certain results.”
Ofqual has pointed out that pupil grades can already be lowered after results day if errors are identified through appeals against exam results, as opposed to coursework results, or exam board checks.
‘Challenges will be rare’
The watchdog’s report outlining the appeals change says that some pupils were being given “a higher mark or grade than their work deserved” and that this was only being discovered “following a review of marking requested on behalf of a different candidate”.
“We do not consider that it is fair for a candidate who was given a higher result than they should have been to automatically keep that result because of the way that it was discovered,” the report says.
“There is no such protection for candidates who have benefited from such an error when that error came to light in other ways.”
The regulator stresses that exam boards will not be forced to pass on grade reductions if it emerges after results day that grades were too high – but they will have to follow Ofqual guidance when deciding whether to do so.
‘Hard for schools to handle’
School leaders are alarmed by the plans. Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Because of the risk to the grades of the whole cohort, that’s going to make it really rare for a school to challenge the coursework moderation. Because there’s been a safeguard in there, it’s been possible to challenge that with some form of safety blanket in place.
“It’s going to be extremely difficult for schools to handle because anybody with high grades isn’t going to want to them put at risk.”
A spokesman for Ofqual said: “Exam boards have always had the potential to change marks and therefore grades after GCSE, AS and A-level results have been issued if they consider it appropriate to do so for any reason other than as a direct result of a review of moderation. Removing automatic protection brings clarity and consistency to the review system.”
Native speakers ‘stealing a march in languages exams’
Ofqual is to investigate whether pupils taking A levels in foreign languages are being put at a disadvantage by entries from native speakers.
The exams watchdog says it is responding to concerns that growing numbers of pupils who speak French, German, Spanish, Italian and Russian as their native language are taking A levels in those subjects, making the exams unfair for those who are studying them as second languages.
Ofqual has asked schools for details of how many of their pupils who take the subjects are native speakers.
In a letter to schools, it said it would use the information to determine “whether any action needs to be taken”.
“We’re conducting the research because we know from anecdotal evidence that there are concerns about the potential impact of native speakers on A-level modern foreign language results,” Rachel Taylor, a research fellow for the regulator, said in a blog post.
“In particular, there are concerns that the number of native speakers is increasing and that, as a result, students for whom the [language] is a second language are being disadvantaged.”
The news comes amid concerns about a decline in language learning in England’s schools and colleges. Entries for A levels in French and German have fallen every year since 2010.
The Language Trends survey, carried out by the British Council and the CfBT Education Trust, published in April, showed that the introduction of the English Baccalaureate performance measure, under which schools are given an incentive to enter more pupils for language GCSEs, had had “little impact” on take-up of language A levels.
The report found that many schools put this down to “the widely reported inconsistency of A-level exam marking and the resulting difficulty of getting a top grade in a language”.