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 336.

    Mmmm just having a look around to see what bad news the government is trying to bury today, I suppose this might just take people's minds of the defeat on Wednesday...

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    The coursework from every school would gave been externally moderated by an examiner certified by the exam board (their moderation is also moderated!). After the marks are submitted by the school they are asked for random students work along with the highest score and lowest score scripts. There is a +/- leeway depending on the max possible marks. Exceed this and things get changed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    This really stinks. There was clearly political interference in the summer. Gove's finger prints are all over it and Ofqual are just saying anything to get themselves out of the mire. Regrade all the papers using the same standards as Christmas, anything else it just grossly unfair to a generation that will have enough problems to deal with in the current climate as it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    Outrageous, having a go at the teaching profession.

    After all, look at the steady stream of quality, work-ready citizens pouring out of our nation's schools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    @ #308 Presario
    "Pity there isn't a similar fuss about marking at degree level. For degrees relating to the professions i.e. medicine, engineering etc. I am of the opinion that the professional institutions should set and mark the examination papers; only then will the true relative performance of universities be displayed."

    Pity you don't know about professional body accreditation of courses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    Say what you like about 'O' levels (which were much harder than GCSE's - FACT)

    But at least we didnt know our grades would be BEFORE we sat the exams (which by definition sort of makes them pointless? )

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    During the 1980's Maggie through her Education Minister did her best to educationally stuff my childrens generation through nothing more than right wing vicious doctorine, now they are back to do the same to my grandchildren's lot.
    And who was the most frequent visitor to No 10 during Maggies time - Jimmy Savile, who apparently was one of her favourites.

    Good judge of character...

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    281. wirral18

    I am more intelligent than my parents& expect my children to me more intelligent than me
    Oldies just wont accept that this is what has happened with the access to info we now have

    Access to info does not make you more (or less) intelligent. Of course, if you were more intelligent than your parents you would know this. Ask your kids to explain it when the time comes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    When will parents in this country finally realise how appallingly our children and their schools are being 'used' by politicians? Learning means nothing. Results are all (because they equal votes at the next election), so teachers ARE MADE TO focus on results! I work in a school and have done for 20 years. It's shameful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    Tachers have been added to the list of professions that can no longer be trusted. How are they any better than mp's fiddling expenses or bankers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    Someone is to blame. I'm not sure why no-one has complained about the same thing happening with A and AS levels. My grandson had his coursework marked at a level C by his Academy only to have it failed by the Exam boards. He had no chance of correcting the work as he was unaware it was below par. He passed the exams only to fail the coursework. What a waste of 2 years of his life!

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    I am a teacher and examiner. Ofqual is using 'norm referencing' , called 'comparable performance', to 'manage' exam boards to suit Gove's agenda. Pass rates are frozen regardless of what pupils or teachers do, not just English. No need for Ofsted - schools, teachers, pupils now cannot improve. Wake up journalists! Don't allow Glennys the lawyer to get away with it by blaming teachers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    I guess I am out of touch, but I had always assumed that course work was marked by an external examiner! I thought it was all sent off. It seems crazy that a teacher should be allowed to mark their own students work. How can that ever be unbiased? It would be like a driving instructor conducting the driving test on their own student.

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    OFQUAL are being disingenous, conflating two very different processes - marking of student work and setting of grade boundaries - in what looks like a deliberate attempt to direct public opinion away from blatent political interference with examinations.

    Teachers' marking is subject to a standardising process called moderation which ensures all scripts are marked to the same standard!

  • Comment number 322.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    Poor old teachers, as soon as they are criticised for something they throw their toys out the pram and go crying back to the NUT. Typically unable to accept blame for anything.

    Why do teachers always have to be the only employment group who should be immune from criticism, change, inspection and evaluation when they get good money, 12 weeks paid holiday a year and job security for life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.


    If it's within tolerance it is, by definition, not overmarking!
    For most coursework, the raw marks are out of 50 so the teacher has to be within 3 marks each way of the moderators view after following a vague set of marking guidelines imposed on the exam boards by Ofqual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    288. WhyMe44
    Raymond Hopkins @ 279 says:
    "What do we do with the remaining 95%, all of whom will be perceived as failures?"

    Are you one of those perceived to be among the top 5% of intelligent human beings on this planet?

    If not, do you consider yourself a "failure"?
    I was branded a failure when I failed the 11+. Being an official decision, I suppose I have to believe it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    Tim, no one cares about your coursework grade. Not ofqual, not your teachers, not future employers who don't trust grades anymore and ultimately not you either.
    This isn't a row to get you the grades you deserve. Its a row so that your head teacher gets his xmas bonus and some lawyers can make a killing at the taxpayers expense too. Don't for a second think anyone gives a damn about you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    E.g. A students exam paper deserves between 50 to 55 marks for this level of answer, so the marker gives a score of 52. (January)
    Now knowing that the pass mark is 54, the marker gives this student 54 (July). It is not difficult to see how this fiasco has happened.
    The exams should be fair to all and not subject to internal influence.


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