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 136.

    120. Polly812

    Teachers are people

    Its like blaming 'hairdressers' for bad hair or 'nurses' for death.

    When you 'blame' a group you are pointing at a flawed system. Teachers mark coursework to save the govt money.

    Ridiculous ! If there's a heap of bones on the floor and a Bunch of Vultures sat in a tree at above it its a very good guess it was them that done it !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    This may not be a very tidy way to clear up the mess regarding coursework but it may help. In the years leading up to me taking early retirement I became frustrated by the fact that I was expected to have a greater input into student's coursework, to the point where I felt it was more my work than their own. It is little wonder we don't have young people with the skill sets we need as a country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Years and years of making it easier and easier: pindrop silence from the teachers.

    Raise the standard, make it a bit harder to get the grade, they squeal and squeal and squeal.

    Frankly these teachers need to grow up a bit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Reading some of the current and previous comments on HYS, it is a wonder that anyone in their right mind could give any marks to the aforesaid writers for their spelling, and grammar, and ability to write a properly constructed English sentence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Apart from the teachers I know personally, who are overworked to the point of breakdown but still give their all for the sake of the pupils, The Mail has nailed this. They are a buch of feckless socialist’s hell bent on the destruction of middle white Britain! We need a more cronyistic system, like the one implememnted in the 'Public' school sector, it's not what you know, it's who you know!

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    When I did English "O" levels in 1980, our work was continuously assessed - but each piece was marked 3 times - once by our teacher, once by another teacher at our school, and finally by an external examiner.

    I think it's not just the exams that have been dumbed-down, but the process for marking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    The secretary of State for Education is Michael Gove.
    He's been in post since May 2010.
    If he's not up to the job then there are plenty who would try and do it better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    35 The Bladesman
    "That should mean teaching pupils to the best of their ability".

    I know of no teachers who teach to less than their best ability. Although it is apparent to neither pupils nor parents, some teachers work under very much more favourable conditions than others do.

    We should not set too much store by exams. They are not the finely calibrated affair we are led to believe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    I taught GCSE English for many years and was also a moderator for a number of exam boards. It is very difficult for teachers to overmark as coursework will be requested at random by the moderators and therefore marks can be standardised. In my experience, teachers have been scrupulous in their marking. In my opinion, this report is trying to pass the blame onto teachers. Shame on the regulator

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Dpressed "In science, the coursework element of the final grade is general worth no more than 20%. If this is the same in English then how can 'generous' marking of this small part of the exam have ad such a large impact upon final grades?"

    Thank God you're not marking English

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    I read a lot on here of "Bring back the old GCE type assessment." I for one was very badly served by those & it took years of my career to get to the position that those who it suited were at as school leavers.
    Despite being a member of Mensa, I found passing exams very difficult and left school with 3 'O' levels.
    I retired as a manager in Financial Services earning £60K+.
    GCEs don't suit all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    League tables and 'targets' - you reap what you sow. It's not teachers to blame, it's pushy parents and governors who don't understand the difference between education and training.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    If a policeman stopped me for speeding I would be angry too.

    My anger does not mean I wasn't speeding, however.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    whining teachers, cushy jobs, cushy pay, cushy pensions - they winge and whine when someone points the finger at them when the truth is out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Coursework marks are moderated and, if necessary, scaled, in school and then by an external Moderator. The report implies that these procedures failed, so, illogically, marks were scaled down in a different element of the course. Scaling is known to be a blunt instrument and somebody has used it to beat results to death. And why narrow the goals half way through the exam? Any ideas, Mr Gove?

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    My missus (a newly qualified teacher at the time) had all her marking adjusted by her head of department. The excuse was that she had adhered too closely to the marking criteria of the examination board. As a result every pupil went up at least 1 grade!! External, independent moderation is a must. The schools cannot moderate themselves in order to fudge their standings in the league tables.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.


    Teachers are people like you & me. The individuals may be good bad or indifferent, but you can't assign blame or responsibility to a group because there's no real person there. Just a category.

    Its like blaming 'hairdressers' for bad hair or 'nurses' for death.

    When you 'blame' a group you are pointing at a flawed system. Teachers mark coursework to save the govt money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    @104 ummm....actually my parents taught me to read and write

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Here we are pussy footing again.... sort it out one way or the other - get it dome with!

    All teachers 'could' get together and refuse to teach until all are on a level playing field, this is basically talking the blame from the examiners and laying blame on the teachers.

    And Micheal Gove hasn't any idea at all, why hasn't he TOLD them to sort it out?

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    This article fails to make an important point; the marking of controlled assessments is externally moderated and this is separate to the grade boundaries. If a school marks too generously, the raw marks are moderated down and the school gets feedback as to why so that it doesn't happen again. It should have no impact on grade boundaries whatsoever.


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