GCSE English: Teachers' anger over generous marking claim

English class The teaching profession is angry at claims they marked pupils' work optimistically

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Teachers have hit out at claims they marked GCSE work too generously, as new data show the decline in pupils getting at least a C in English.

More than 600 schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland saw a fall of 10% or more in the proportion of pupils achieving grades A*-C on last year.

The figures indicate the scale of this summer's English GCSE grading debacle.

In its final report on the controversy, exams watchdog Ofqual says pressure to get good grades saw teachers overmark.

The new data - given to the Education Select Committee in response to questions it raised of Ofqual in relation to the grading row - shows 611 schools saw a decrease of 10% or more in the number of candidates getting A*-C in English.

Head teachers have said that tens of thousands of students received lower GCSE English grades than expected this year, mainly around the C/D border.

Controlled assessment

The fiasco centres around the controlled assessment aspect of the new modular English GCSE qualification, sat for the first time this summer.

Controlled assessment is GCSE coursework which is sat in the classroom under strict supervision and marked by teachers.

Ofqual, which regulates exams in England and vocational qualifications in Northern Ireland, says teenagers have been let down by an exams system where teachers are under intense pressure to achieve good grades.

Its report says teachers in some of England's secondary schools were guilty of "significantly" over-marking pupils' GCSE English work this summer in order to boost results.

"The regulator concludes that so much weight on one grade in one subject as part of accountability and performance measures created perverse incentives for schools in the way they marked controlled assessment and led to the over-marking," the report says.

But Glenn Smith, principal of Honiton Community College in Devon, told the BBC that teachers in his English department used "stringent" measures to ensure they were marking these assessments fairly and consistently.

"An awful lot of work goes into ensuring their marking is accurate - the pressure they live with is intense," he said.

"To say they've marked up is outrageous."

Val Tyreman Val Tyreman says external moderators should have picked up the problem

Philip Rush, deputy head teacher at St Peter's High School, Gloucester, said: "The fiasco surrounding the unfairness of this summer's grades is a political not an educational fiasco.

"St Peter's High School deplores the slur made on the school's teachers, and on all English teachers working in England, by Ofqual's comments, and seeks to have them withdrawn."

Val Tyreman, a science teacher from Stockton-on-Tees, described Ofqual's report as "appalling".

"I cannot understand how they can blame teachers if external moderation procedures were properly applied. I don't see how teachers can be accused of generous marking."

John Townsley, executive principal of two academy schools in Leeds, said: "The problem is that Ofqual were asleep in the early part of the award.

"And that meant that many Cs were given out generously in June 2011 and Jan 2012, resulting in very little being left for the students at the end of the course. That's fundamentally unfair and it's not addressed in this report. "


Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "For Ofqual to suggest that teachers and schools are to blame is outrageous and flies in the face of the evidence.

"The accountability measures do place tremendous pressure on teachers and schools, especially at GCSE grade C, but to say that teachers would compromise their integrity to the detriment of students is an insult."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "It is a diversion to attempt to blame teachers for following the rules they were given.

"If your elected government tells you this is the right thing to do, if your performance is measured on it and if you are sacked for failing to achieve it, you have no choice but to do it."

Teachers' anger over the marking fiasco was reflected in a survey in the Times Education Supplement.

The survey of 467 secondary schools in England found 93% had lost faith in Ofqual, with more than half saying they had no confidence in the regulator.

Responding to the survey schools described the watchdog as "underhand", "incompetent", "bullying and callous" and "a Gove puppet".

Glenys Stacey, Ofqual: "It's not the teachers' fault"

New qualification

Speaking to BBC Radio Four's Today programme, Ofqual chief executive Glenys Stacey said she believed teachers had marked the test "optimistically" rather than with a deliberate intention to inflate grades.

She said: "Teachers are not making up marks here. They are doing their level best to do the best for their students and they are bound, given the pressures they are under, to take the most optimistic view.

"There's an amount of tolerance... some leeway in the marking. But if enough teachers mark up to that tolerance, mark up to that limit, then overall it has a national effect," she added.

This summer's English GCSEs were a new modular qualification, with pupils sitting written exam papers and controlled assessment, and schools decided when pupils submitted that assessment work and sat exams.

Ofqual's research found many schools used the marks pupils received in their first exams and the January grade boundaries to work out what score a pupil would need in their controlled assessment to get a certain grade and marked it accordingly.

Most of the controlled assessment work was submitted in the summer and when examiners saw evidence of over-marking, exam boards raised grade boundaries, leading some pupils to receive poorer grades than expected.

In Wales, ministers ordered a regrade for pupils who got a lower grade than expected with Welsh board WJEC, but Ofqual did not order such a move in England.

Now an alliance of pupils, schools, councils and professional bodies has launched a legal challenge over the fiasco, calling for results to be re-graded.

League tables

Schools in England are measured on the percentage of pupils who get five A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths.

This measure is included in league tables, with schools expected to have at least 40% of students reaching this standard.

The Ofqual report says the new qualifications "reinforced the trend" of schools running the GCSE schools years (Years 10 and 11) as a "tactical operation to secure certain grades and combinations of grades".

"This has come to be seen as 'what good schools do' despite the awareness of many teachers and parents that the concept of broad and deep learning can get lost along the way," it says.

Ofqual says it will take action to ensure there are no repeats of this year's problems in 2013.

The watchdog also says this year's debacle proves the proposal by Education Secretary Michael Gove to end the modularisation of GCSEs in England by 2014 is correct.

Ms Stacey said the new modular English GCSEs at the heart of the fiasco were too flexible and "not sufficiently resilient" to take the pressure they were put under.

"It is so flexible that, when subjected to the pressure of the accountability system, it can buckle," she said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Teachers are dictated to by Politicians and irresponsible policies. Headteachers influenced by League tables/OFSTED (first area they look at is the Data and past exam results!). Very naive to think the exam boards are the sole reason for this and to disregard the above - it is not and if you believe this you are part of the problem and not qualified to pass judgement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Either several thousand teachers across the UK all got it wrong. Or Ofqual moved the goalposts. I know which I believe, and I'm pretty sure the government had a hand in it. Don't want all these students that have been through state funded education getting better results than their lovely new academies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    This whole debacle is probably a result of the supposedly independent regulator being pressurised by the Secretary of State to do something about the standard and rigour of our qualifications. Instead of thinking about how to phase this in appropriately, they went in all guns blazing without any thought of the consequences. Now it's all gone wrong, teachers are being used as scapegoats...again!

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    First get them potty trained, teach them discipline, how to tie shoelaces, then let them go to school.
    Instill a good understanding of the three "R"s, and build on that. If they dont learn in the first year, keep them back a year. And so on all through school. Even to the extent of keeping them on until they are 19! Lets teach kids, not teachers, parents or politicians!

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Here's an idea. Why don't we give children a decent education? Kids who are educated to a reasonable level have an uncanny ability to pass exams. Making exams easier lowers the bar. Manipulating the results lowers the bar further. The metophorical bar has been at its lowest rung for many years, which is blindingly evident in every low income area in the country... and the Jeremy Kyle guest list.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    @6.wisolme The simple solution to this event recurring(if it did) is for examination boards to mark all papers externally.
    What about the cost. Moderation and statistical adjustment (as is done in the exam board my partner marks and moderates for) is surely a better more cost effective option. Though undoubtedly more sensible it propbably isn't as popularist.........

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Michael Gove cocked up and let his obsession with old time education cloud his view THAT caused the order to go out DOWNGRADE.
    Result = backlash = government blaming all else finally settling on teachers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    If the grades are getting too high, the grade boundaries increase. If grades fall, the teachers are failing the children. Where is the congratulations and appreciation to teachers and the children's intelligence?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    @redan_white 39 and Ben 31

    Coursework is moderated but there is a tolerance of 6% either way. According to Ofqual in many cases the 'over-marked' papers fell just inside the 6% tolerance so were not adjusted.

    To me this is more damning as it suggests an intent to play the system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.


  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    This smacks to me of Ofqual seeking to "muddy the water" in the hope that their unmitigated cock up might go unnoticed/unpunished.
    Perhaps the grade boundaries should change, perhaps teachers assessments should be better policed. What should clearly not have happened is a change being introduced part way through an academic year, with no notice.
    I suspect interference by Mr Gove will emerge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    58. Mooker
    Teachers are the most overrated overrespected profession in our society and its about time they came down off their high horse and faced some reality!

    Just add doctors to this and I'd be in complete agreement!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Teachers trying to help kids, is that really new!

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    The blame lies with the system - coursework should be marked by examiners, in the same way as exam scripts. This mess only highlights why politics needs to be kept out of education. A whole generation have been let down, keep Gove & the rest of Westminster out of their replacement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Yes, I'm a teacher and it's all our fault!

    I and the NUT are also responsible for the attrocities committed by Attila the Hun, Robespierre's reign of terror, Leopold II's devastation of the Congo, Stalin's gulag, Vlad the Impaler's methods of torture and those sachets of brown sauce that make tourists think the British are cheap.

    Teachers. Grrrr. Ruddy lefties....

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Coursework opens a lot of possibility by semi-fraudulent activity. It should be scrapped.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    I think the issues here run deeper than the teachers:-

    Educational policies, assessments, and standards which are built around a premise of "nobody must be allowed to fail" are flawed.

    Success and failure, winning and losing are all a part of real life - preparing our children for it by wrapping them in cotton wool will cause long-term damage.

    The policy makers are equally culpable here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    So its suggested that the coursework was inaccurately marked, yet its resiting the exam element that is going to rectify the position. Really!? Doesn't seem logical - surely the exam element, being accurate. remains unaltered and the adjustments are made to the coursework element. Adjusting the mark boundaries was a ludicrous solution. Could Ms Staecy please close the door on her way out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Teachers are the most overrated overrespected profession in our society and its about time they came down off their high horse and faced some reality!

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    And we are surprised when children don't respect teachers?They get constant blame when things go wrong&the masses jump on the bandwagon.

    Fact - Ofqual issued guidelines incl. leeway, teachers marked accordingly&now get told this was wrong. Simply don't offer the leeway then if it can't/shouldn't be used!

    The real problem is the obsession with testing&unless this is addressed nothing will change!


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