Education & Family

Exam errors: ICT teachers complain to Ofqual

Girls at a computer
Image caption Students involved will sit their other ICT exam later this month

ICT teachers have complained they were told to "mark right answers as wrong" because of mistakes by an exam board.

They have complained to England's exams watchdog Ofqual about several errors on a guide they were given for marking course work for an AS-level exam.

The exam board involved, OCR, says students will not suffer as a result and that there were no mistakes on the paper itself.

There have been several errors on exam papers this summer.

Ofqual last week said the series of mistakes was unacceptable and disappointing.

This latest case involves the marking of course work, known as a "structured task".

Students have to complete a number of tasks under exam conditions, such as creating websites and databases.

The course work accounts for 40% of the AS-level.

It is marked by students' teachers against a guide or "mark scheme" given by the exam body which tells them what they can award marks for. The work is then sent to the exam board where a sample from each school is checked.

'No excuses'

Documents seen by the BBC show the exam board accepts there were four mistakes on the marking scheme - though some teachers have said there were as many as six.

When teachers pointed out the errors to the exam board, the tutors say they were told to follow the marking scheme and that adjustments would be made by exam board moderators.

The exam bodies normally check a sample of papers from each school or exam centre.

Lynne Head, an ICT teacher from Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, said: "It's so unprofessional. It's become a farce. There should not be any excuse for any of these mistakes.

"There should be a system where they are checked and double-checked - not just for us but for the children."

She said some of her students had been upset when she showed them their marks - even though she explained that these could well rise once the exam board had re-checked them.

"They were crestfallen, saying, 'All that work and I only got a C,'" she said. "I feel so sorry for them."

Former ICT examiner Paul Long, who runs an online support group for ICT teachers, told the BBC: "When the mark scheme was published, there were four serious errors in the answers given. If OCR had issued an errata notice [a correction], then this could have been resolved.

"However, they told teachers to mark correct answers as wrong. This would be like in a maths exam if a child had written '5 + 5 =10', but the mark scheme said '11' and teachers were told to mark '10' as wrong."

Mr Long says the process the exam board is putting in place to manage the errors is "completely flawed".

He said: "They will only see a small percentage of work from candidates, and both those candidates who get the answers right, and those who get them wrong, will be treated exactly the same."

'Rare mistakes'

A spokeswoman for OCR confirmed there had been errors but said these would "not impact on students" because measures were being put in place to deal with the problem.

"We are able to adjust for that," she said.

"It is rare that exam boards make these errors. But we are aware of them and we are dealing with them."

An ICT teacher from Leicestershire has made a formal complaint to Ofqual about the assessment of the AS-level, saying he speaks on behalf of "many colleagues in numerous schools throughout the UK".

Ofqual - England's exams watchdog - has confirmed it is looking at the complaint. It is already investigating errors on six of this summer's papers.

It has published figures for the number of errors in recent years - although it warns that they are not directly comparable because Ofqual was created last year and its predessor bodies might have recorded errors in a different way.

Last week it suggested the number for this year was roughly in line with previous years.

But the published figures show no incidents recorded for last year or in 2009, with three in 2008 and one in 2006 and again in 2007.

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