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How teachers felt forced to ‘cheat’ on GCSE English marking

2 November 2012

3:55 PM

2 November 2012

3:55 PM

Ofqual’s final report, published today, on the GCSE English marking row, underlines why the qualifications need an overhaul and makes extremely awkward reading for the teachers who were so upset by their pupils’ results this summer. It concludes that the redesigned English GCSE was ‘flawed’, and that teachers felt under pressure to over-mark coursework to a higher grade than it deserved. The report suggests there was a culture of over-marking which led to other teachers doing the same:

‘While no school that we interviewed considered that it was doing anything untoward in teaching and administering these GCSEs, many expressed concerns that other nearby schools were overstepping the boundaries of acceptable practice. It is clearly hard for teachers to maintain their own integrity when they believe that there is a widespread loss of integrity elsewhere. No teacher should be forced to choose between their principles on the one hand and their students, school and career on the other.’

Ofqual’s report contains a damning analysis which shows work marked by teachers was more likely to receive a uniform mark scale score (UMS) needed for a C grade. They used the January 2012 grade boundaries to calculate how many more UMS points a student needed to reach their target grade. But the January boundaries were found to be lower than they should have been, which meant pupils missed their target grade in the summer when they were raised again.

The graph below for the English Language GCSE offered by AQA, which has 62 per cent of the entry for English and English Language, shows that for controlled assessment work marked by the pupils’ teachers, there were large clusters of students gaining marks that pushed them comfortably into the grade boundaries for January 2012:

But the chart below is based on the actual boundaries for June and shows that many more students just missed the grades:

The graphs for AQA’s English qualification are even more striking. This is the graph for the January 2012 grade boundaries:

And this is the graph for the June grade boundaries, which again shows that many more students missed the grade C:

There are similar graphs for the other exam boards, and you can read them all from p69 onwards of the report.

Schools told the regulator that they would target a score for each student that would put them ‘safely within the score range for their predicted grade’. The report says that ‘when the boundaries were set at higher marks, these students did not achieve their predicted grades’. It also refers to teachers on online forums saying they felt as though they were cheating.

The exams regulator found that when the qualification was being designed, there was ‘a lack of openness… about the problems with coursework and the extent to which English GCSE was already under stress as a result’. It was the now-defunct Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority which was responsible for those changes.

In the interim before the GCSEs are abolished altogether, students who started their courses this September will no longer sit modular assessments. But Ofqual says it will advise Education Secretary Michael Gove on how the new English Baccalaureate can avoid similar crises and flaws in its design. One of the areas the government is currently considering is whether a move away from coursework in the EBacc is a good idea.

This is of course a huge shame for the pupils involved, who may have believed they were going to achieve a mark that they then missed. And teachers are continuing to pursue their legal action against Ofqual and the exam boards, which means that though the regulator’s report is final, this isn’t the end of the row.

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