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 496.

    Tim 278

    Did any teacher inform you that unless we compare the present with the past we shall be unable to deduce whether or not we are making progress as a society or regressing. Incidentally, which do think it is,progress or regress? Or is your modern history not up to helping you make a reasonable judgement?

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    If teachers have targets to meet and at the same time mark course work it is obvious that they are under pressure to mark leniently. The system is designed badly and any fault lies at the feet of the regulator.

    Grade inflation has many causes not least that teaching methods are much better than years ago. My children have just done GCSE's and know far more than I did doing O levels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    Teachers are not the ones at fault here because marks have been adjusted after leaving them. The reason being a certain percentage of students had to achieve a particular mark or grade each year. This has been in place for many years. Goodness help the poor soul who was born in the wrong year.
    Yes many of the exams have been too easy for far too long - despite protestations to the contrary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    Exam Boards moderate teachers' marking! Boards can lower the marks, warn that marking is straying towards limits of tolerance. [Warnings must be acted in the next round.] They can confirm marks. Every Head of English has the Boards' verdict on teachers' marking in writing. There was never any need for exam marks to be adjusted to balance coursework marks or do Ofqual not know their own systems?

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    My friends copied their elder siblings' coursework and submitted as theirs. They never got caught as they either had a different teacher for that subject. If they had the same teacher, they would forget as they had 2 years gap and up to 300 students' work to mark inbetween.

    Funny how my friends with elder siblings got better marks than those who are an only child (me) and the eldest child!

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    Why does our education system seem to be in a state of constant flux, and dare I say turmoil?
    This is the most important stage of someone's life and needs sorting once and for all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    281 Wirral18
    Have you ever thought who is responsible for the fact that you can get all this information from the internet? I doubt if you've an original thought in your head - most the the young haven't. We didn't have the gadgets etc. you have (not even electronic calculators) so we invented them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    I like other comments though they were not marked by teachers themselves. Of course they are going to mark their own pupils higher than deserved. Also exams using the computer is a very easy way to cheat for high marks, apparently. We should revert back to exam papers for all exams, this will show if the pupils can read, write and add up. Universities wont have to teach basics then

  • Comment number 488.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    LA Odicean-I'm pleased to hear that your education was so thorough. However, were you away for the lesson on how to spell appalling?

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    400 newsteacher

    So teachers have to cheat to achieve their targets!! An excellent example to set our young people and you think politicians are a disgrace. Teachers are never to blame for anything and as usual their unions protect them. Join the real world where 14 weeks holiday is not the norm and quarterly reviews and targets are the norm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    @463 L A Odicean

    I take it you know how spelling is taught in schools?

    I personally find for example weekly spellchecks of 20 high frequency words in year 1(which change once checks are passed correctly 3times for all words) & daily spelling practice with weekly spelling tests in year 3 quite effective.
    But I'm open to hearing how it used to be &how it could once again be done much better....

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    460. Bob
    My boss specifically instructed me to not employ any UK juniors who qualified or left school after summer 2004 as they do not have the necessary skills.

    Then it's no wonder our economy is in the state it's in if he's an example of the people running businesses. That must be getting on for 20% of those of working age! Do yourself a favour Bob - get out before your firm goes belly-up

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    and the BBC like the good tory lap dogs they are ran with half a story without ever mentioning the fact its just one side of a very biased picture they are painting.
    BBC yet again you get lower in everyones estimation simply because your dg wants gongs not to be a bastion of truth

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    Hmm... catch 22. If not enough people get good grades then education is failing. If too many people get good grades the system is too soft so education is failing. If it's strict and draconian people complain. If it's softer and inclusive people complain. My conclusion? There is no solution that will make us happy. Politicians will tinker and change the rules forever anyway. Just try your best...!

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    I would like to see the end of:
    . Modular exams. Ask a student in May of their 2nd year of A-levels a question about something they did 18 months ago. They wouldn't know
    . Re-sits if they did rubbish, had a headache etc. The only time they should do re-sits if they never did the original exam due to illness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    Too many lefties in the teacher corps, who think they have found yet another way to hide in the public sector. So they overmark the coursework and pocket the salary. We need to clear these types out and get normal people in their place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    229 Wirral18

    I am not young but I am not old, therefore relatively impartial. I would advise you keep quiet about more intelligent youth when I can point to three basic errors of grammar in your rant.

    Sorry to break it to you but I have interviewed hundreds of people for legal, finance and commercial jobs over last 20 years, and knowledge levels are, for an absolute fact, declining.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    After 39 years in the classroom all I can say is the sooner coursework is removed the better. I have watched good teachers being pushed to the limit to achieve grades students just don't deserve. Rules have been stretched to squeeze a few more marks to satisfy data managers and edge up the lousy league tables. League tables reflect those that are best at manipulating the results.

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    These political battles to make teachers out to be bad guys and Gove and his puppets to be "right" are disgraceful . We are talking here about children's futures, so many don't see a way forward thanks to the government and their games! If the teachers marked to the rules then the rules should not be changed half way through a course ! Which idiot thinks I work 25 hours a week too !! Try 50 !


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