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 416.

    Teachers have always defended their actions - I've never heard a teaching body admit any degree of accountability let alone fault. That has to change. Independent review is the only way forward, for everyone's sake.

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    Typical Governement body - blame someone else for your own failings! This is a desperate attempt to deflect the flak and pretend they were right all the time. And no, I am not a teacher and don't even know any teachers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    This "shock news" coincides conveniently with Gove's ideas for scrapping the Conservative's GCSEs. Of course the irony is that teachers will now be tasked with improving the results of their replacement year-on-year only to become accused of "teaching to the test" or being told that the new exams are "getting easier and easier".

    Also OFQUAL have "overlooked" who actually awarded these grades...

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    I knew a teacher years ago who openly admitted that grade inflation goes on. Ruling bodies need to understand that continued improvements are not always possible, and cheating the system to achieve this only harms the students in the long term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    @406 - you bet! They have an awful lot to hide and it all comes from the politicians. Ofqual and Ofsted, for their part do not understand the negative effect they can have upon schools and education in general.

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    Here we go again! Lets face it the whole education system is rotten to the core and the cause is successive DofE's, or what ever they are called this year, trying to meddle in things they have not a clue about!

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    Of course teachers will grade coursework generously. There is an incentive for enery other school to do it so if you are not generous in your own marking, you are putting your own pupils at a relative disadvantage,

    Wasn't this obvious from the start when coursework was introduced?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    I've just found out that Glenys Stacey, head of Ofqual, is a solicitor, and has no formal qualifications in education. Then again, nor has Gove, and that does not stop him pulling her strings.

  • Comment number 408.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    I like that 393. The fact is kids still leave school without a all round education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    I read earlier on this site that Ofqual will not give grades to the students doing their English exams this January, they will have to wait until June. How can that possibly be justified, I assume that the same rule will apply to the pupils sitting the exam this month after all it is the same exam series! Ofqual is activing defensively - appears they have much to hide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    399. bigbear1985
    You'd be a completely incompetent teacher if you didn't over mark! There are comparisons to this practice in every profession. "yeah it's not strictly speaking right but if I don't do it I'd be shooting myself in the foot".
    My area manager is completely incompetent and regularly over-marks me at appraisals. Strangely enough, I never complain about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    Politics, Making Money comes first.

    Who said Education comes first?

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    The 'O' Level exams were rigorously marked in my opinion and course work not taken into consideration as a person that sat 10 'O' Levels in 1979.

    GCSE have lost all their credability, when you start fudging the grades the losers are the kids. When you go to work and you are not as good as your qualifications say you are, you will be out of the door.

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    Tough!! These exams have been far too easy for far too long. They need a drastic tightening up and, hopefully, the new measures will achieve this. It seems as if you only have to spell your name correctly to get a pass!

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    @384 - I teach MFL and last year's written work was incredibly harshly marked by the exam board. No doubt part of some political game.

    I agree, though, that the Govt wanted to save money - it would cost a bomb to have boards doing the marking teachers do of their own assessments.

    I look forward to the day when GCSEs are awarded based on 1 exam. Won't suit some subjects, though, I'm afraid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.

    The system has not worked for years. We, as teachers have said this time and again. The Unions have said this time and again. Yet we as teachers have had to deliver results or face losing our jobs. We have been forced to play a shabby game by politicians. Now the politicians cry foul. What an utter disgrace British politicians are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    You'd be a completely incompetent teacher if you didn't over mark! There are comparisons to this practice in every profession. "yeah it's not strictly speaking right but if I don't do it I'd be shooting myself in the foot".

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    "We'll give them a comprehensive education, to make up for their comprehensive education."

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    Tinker, tinker, dumber and dumber...

    In view of the vast cost of education governance and the regular tinkering over many decades, all we see relatively speaking is dumber and dumber.

    Like much of current UK governance we need a big shake up.


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