Heads doubt Ofqual's claims on GCSE English

child writing This summer's GCSE exam results have been followed by months of controversy

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Head teachers are challenging the credibility of Ofqual's version of the GCSE English exam controversy - saying that exam board reports confirm the reliability of teachers' marking.

They say such moderation reports prove the accuracy of teachers' marking.

Ofqual's report concluded there had been "significant over-marking".

But the AQA exam board confirmed that its moderators found fewer than 5% of teachers' assessments for English GCSE had needed to be adjusted.

East London head Kenny Frederick, backed by head teachers' organisations, is challenging the exam regulator to produce evidence to back claims schools have been too generous in marking.

Head teachers' leader, Brian Lightman, said that many schools are now saying that their assessment was judged as "exemplary" by moderation - but were then downgraded.

"If schools can't trust feedback from moderators, what can they trust?" said Mr Lightman.

Last week's report by Ofqual into the GCSE English controversy, defended its decision to change grade boundaries and blamed over-generous marking in teachers' assessments.

An Ofqual spokeswoman said on Tuesday that "the over-marking was significant enough to make awarding difficult".

Evidence challenge

But heads are calling for Ofqual to show the evidence of where this has happened.

Ofqual commissioned research for the report into schools adversely affected. This was carried out by a research consultancy which spoke to teachers in 100 schools and colleges - but this does not appear to have looked at any actual exam papers.

Ofqual's claim that there was over-marking seems to come from the exam boards - which also have a moderation system in place to prevent this.

AQA's evidence identified "strategic marking" by teachers in "some centres".

But teachers have asked why, if there was evidence of over-marking in some exam centres, that this was not tackled in these specific places - rather than reducing grades across all schools.

"Are you suggesting that all schools have behaved in this way? If not, then why were we all treated the same way?" asked a Bolton deputy head.

Ms Frederick, backed by the National Association of Head Teachers, is calling on other head teachers to publish their moderation reports - and says that Ofqual's leadership is losing the confidence of schools.

Start Quote

Do you have evidence of over-marking by teachers? Can we see it? Which schools and which students are you talking about in the report?”

End Quote Kenny Frederick Head teacher's letter to Ofqual chief

She wants schools to produce evidence to their local communities which they say would challenge Ofqual's account of the changes in grades.

Ms Frederick has released the moderation feedback from her own school, George Green's School in Tower Hamlets. Exam board moderators check a random sample of candidates to make sure that assessments are in keeping with expected standards.

"The centre is to be commended for the way it elicited detailed responses from students to substantial texts," wrote the exam board moderator. Teachers' annotations had "enabled the moderator to understand how and why the centre had awarded marks" - and said that some of the work had been "outstanding".

But when the results were published - it showed there were 19 pupils who missed out on a projected C grade in English. This was in a school where exam grades have been rising.

Heads say that such individual pupils have become the victim of an unfair manipulation of this summer's grades.

Ms Frederick says the moderation report shows that teachers' assessments had been checked and verified by the exam board - in this case AQA - and called on Ofqual to provide evidence to show why such moderated assessments should then be downgraded.

'Poorly led'

Ofqual's report last week found that: "Most centres that we interviewed did not have their marks for the controlled assessment changed through moderation.

Start Quote

Most centres that we interviewed did not have their marks for the controlled assessment changed through moderation. The majority of centres took this to mean that their marking had been accurate”

End Quote Ofqual's report into how exam boards moderated teachers' assessments

"The majority of centres took this to mean that their marking had been accurate. On the whole, teachers had received letters from the Awarding Organisations saying that their marks had been accepted without adjustment."

Such feedback - which gave schools the impression that grades were being confirmed - had "created problems", Ofqual's report concluded.

This suggests that in schools with big fluctuations from expected results, both teachers and the exam board moderators had made similar judgements, which were then at odds with Ofqual's later changes to grade boundaries.

The report says that moderation is applied at the level of individual exam units - but the need for a change emerged later, at the level of the full qualification.

An AQA spokeswoman has also pointed to the "tolerance" allowed in marking - and that even if teachers pushed their marking to the upper limit of this range, moderators would not be expected to require a change.

Start Quote

This debacle suggests Ofqual is not fit for purpose. But who inspects them?”

End Quote Phil Department head, Warrington

If teachers across the system pushed their marks to this permissible upper limit, it would see an increase in marks which would not be detected by the moderation process.

Ms Frederick has written to Ofqual chief Glenys Stacey asking for the evidence that underpinned the need for the grade boundary change.

"Do you have evidence of over-marking by teachers? Can we see it? Which schools and which students are you talking about in the report?," writes Ms Frederick.

She has also thrown down the gauntlet to the regulator - saying it is "poorly led and unwilling to accept responsibility".

Brian Lightman, leader of the Association of School and College Leaders, says: "We have heard from many schools that they were told their controlled assessment marking was exemplary, only to find later that it was downgraded.

"If there were issues with teacher over-marking, Ofqual and the exam boards should have dealt with it through improving the moderation process, rather than by changing grade boundaries at the 11th hour. ASCL is strongly encouraging schools to publish their moderation reports, so that the public can see the information that schools were basing their predictions on."

There is also a legal challenge being mounted over the GCSE results, from an alliance of schools and local authorities.

In Wales, exam papers were regraded, but the dispute has continued in England.

An Ofqual spokeswoman said: "Our report recognises the pressures that schools and teachers are under. In producing it we talked - confidentially - to people in over 100 schools, and analysed a great deal of data. Nowhere does the report say, and nor would we want to suggest, that all schools were over-marking.

"Nor have we said that teachers were cheating, as some media reports claimed. But the over-marking was significant enough to make awarding difficult, and to contribute to the unexpected results we saw."

In response to the publication by head teachers of the moderation reports, a spokeswoman for the AQA exam board said: "Ofqual found that while individual schools marked their controlled assessment work accurately according to the marking criteria, the national picture showed that some marking had been optimistic.

"We are acutely aware that the results this summer had a big impact on some schools and have left many students and teachers feeling very let down. We know that we need to ensure that our moderation processes and communications with schools are as effective and transparent as they can be."

Has your school had its GCSE marking supported by moderation? How should this dispute be resolved?

The confidence in Ofqual's ability is seriously undermined by their own report. How can it be the case that schools such as my own can have an examiner's report which confirms the marks awarded by the teacher on one hand but on the other the regulator claiming we were 'optimistic'. I would think that it is a core part of a teachers fundamental responsibilities to be optimistic for their students! Provided teachers have correctly followed the guidelines for the marking, which we have, how could that possibly justify downgrading of our students' work? This report would seem to be another attempt to distract from the reality of the situation; too many students in January were awarded the higher grades and therefore to keep outcomes comparable with the previous year, students in June had to unduly suffer. This is clearly a failing of the regulator, OFQUAL; they should take responsibility and put things right for our children. To blame teachers when the system has failed both staff and students is outrageous.

Stuart Williams, Oakham

I am writing this letter, not as a member of a teaching union or representative of the teaching profession but as a concerned Deputy Headteacher in a Bolton school of 25 years experience that has suffered greatly in the English Language GCSE grading fiasco this summer. We were one of the schools that participated in the Ofqual enquiry and to say I am disappointed in the outcome would be an understatement. The general tone emanating from Ofqual is that overmarking by teachers is to blame for the discrepancies. Are you suggesting that all schools have behaved in this way ? If not, then why were we all treated the same way ? I have attached the moderators report for our centre which does not suggest in any way that we have over marked. As the external moderation is intended to be the way in which discrepancies and over marking are identified and rectified, why did this not happen at those centres where over marking was an issue ? Whilst that may be a factor I find it incredulous that you, as the regulatory body, appear to be blameless in the matter. Surely, as a regulator, your role is to ensure standards are maintained by being proactive in the process ? The evidence suggests that a knee jerk reaction to the results was deemed the appropriate response to resolve the issues. What was happening between January and June ? It seems that the failure of the system has been the inability of the regulator and examination boards to effectively carry out their duties. Equally, the blanket punishment, because that is what the grade shift feels like, must have impacted on many schools like ourselves, who have implemented the marking policy accurately.

Roy Coulson, Bolton

On Wednesday November 7th, the day of the GCSE English resist, I will be issuing OFQUAL an invoice for £2000, being the cost of hiring e tra staff to prepare students swindled of their c grade English GCSE in the summer for the resit. Most have submitted new controlled assessments as well as sitting the exam, to give them a better chance of achieving the grade c given the I reliability of exam board gradings. We expect the legal challenge to be successful and therefore expect HIGHLANDS School, as well as all other schools,who have had extra expenditure, to be fully compensated.

Bruce Goddard, Highlands School, Enfield

I actually did the English exam alongside my year. Before that, my school even had a chat session with a head examiner who went through papers with us and gave us advice on how we can do well. I made stacks of notes and studied these endlessly until my exam. The exam itself was somewhat challenging but I felt confident with how I did, especially since I "knew" the examiners requirements for both question papers. Unfortunately, on results day I was not so pleased. Although I did well in my coursework (A*), I dropped 3 grades of my target grade and finished on a C. For most careers this would be a minimum requirement but for my job choice I needed a B or higher. My classmates and I have refused to resit the exam due to the nature of the marking and most of us needed a higher grade to enter certain A Level courses. We are truly disappointed in "mature adults" playing with our education, especially since jobs are harder to find. I believe Ofqual should call for a remark and leave our coursework as it is, the teacher's marking is always fair. They do not have the right to downgrade a whole year of students because we are actually putting in the most effort that we can to achieve in life. Why do they think grade inflation occurs? If they actually visited schools and spoke to the students and teachers they would know how to do their job.

Ryan, Birmingham

I am Head of English in a large secondary school. We always get good results for English at GCSE yet this year we are 10% down on our teacher predictions - normally we are pretty much spot on. Ironically, we were praised in the moderator's report for the quality of our marking and we are rated as an excellent centre for marking by the exam board. How dare OFQUAL blame the teachers' marking don't they understand the moderation process or what it is for? The whole thing is a breathtaking debacle and OFQUAL have succeeded in making themselves look incompetent and at the same time dealt a crushing blow to young people and teachers across this country.

Martyne Ellard, Newbury

Ofqual seem to be suggesting that the moderation process itself is also flawed- but all of these processes have come into existence under its watch- fitness for purpose seems to be the issue here - and I'm not referring to the GCSEs. How can we be expected to have confidence in the "new" English Bacc when the perceived quality of this too will be overseen by an entitiy that is not up to the job and lacks credibility.

Paul Hennessy, Cardiff

Burried in the AQA annex to the full OFQUAL report we see that the average 'overmarking' by teachers was just under 1.5 marks - yet the grade boundaries moved by 3 marks! Less than half the change in grade boundaries can be accounted for by teacher over-marking .... the reason for the rest of the change is left unexplained!

Steve Wren, Wetherby

Staggering! It would appear OFQUAL have a) failed in their primary function, and b) failed in a clumsy attempt to pass the buck! Surely a lack of both competence AND political savvy can only mean the regulator needs to go.

Sam, London

We were anxious about marking controlled assessments accurately and as a result send regular samples for the chief examiner to check during the course. We were always spot on and were commended for our accuracy. This was the case with the final moderator's report too. The grade boundaries were then changed and 20 of our projected C grade students got a D. We dropped 19% and went from the highest performing department in the school to the lowest. Why were we penalised for the supposed leniency at other centres? It's outrageous!

Tamsin, Holsworthy

Some clues in the tone and wording in this article - over-inflated assessments ie, 'significant over-marking',is, indeed, cheating.Ofqual's pussy-footing attitude around the phrase and faux non-accusatory tone is simply to avoid them being inundated with lawsuits. Cheating remains a sackable offence for a teacher and if there were any truth in the allegations then Ofqual would be the first to intervene at school level by tackling the schools they thought guilty. The correct way - most definitely not by crude,across the board downgrading of all students. Also, the conveniently 'confidential' discussions they purport to have had with over 100 schools. Why confidential? Is it because these schools were thought to have cheated? If so, why punish the national cohort? Forgive my cynicism, but until so-called confidential discussions are made public as honest data ( I know, try not to laugh) that can be interrogated by all, then I refuse to believe that this is nothing other than a political stunt on Ofqual's part. Shame on you, playing politics with students' futures.

Diane, Cheshire

Last year was my first real experience of leading a department through the GCSE. I teach in a school which has had two satisfactory ratings so the situation needed to change. By improving teaching and tracking, by putting on evening classes and Saturday schools we reached a point where, by all previous measures, we would have made improvement. We followed the rubrics on controlled assessment absolutely and applied our own thorough moderation before sending our essays to the board. Our report back from the board glowed and we were commended for our accuracy. Earlier in the year, we had a speaking moderation visit from the board which also commended how we used the full mark range. Then the results came out and our expected outcome dropped. 33 students did not make the grade we were expecting. The effect upon morale of staff, and more importantly, the confidence of students, was devastating. A generation have been taught an object lesson in political cynicism and more schools than ever face the prospect of a negative Ofsted inspection. This debacle suggests Ofqual is not fit for purpose. But who inspects them?

Phil, Warrington

Even if some teachers did overmark coursework, how can it be fair to change the grade boundary for ALL students as a response to SOME students receiving coursework marks that were too high? Seems a sure way to guarantee lots of future overmaking, as teachers will know that fair marks might mean their pupils lose out if other teachers in other schools award marks that are too high.

Katie, Stockport

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