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 716.

    Teachers are under immense pressure to obtain results, often miracles are demanded from them, often they are simply bullied by senior management. They also know their students as individuals, seeing their ambitions, dreams and the amount of effort they put into coursework and they are bound to err on the generous side. They also desire subject excellence. They simply cannot serve three masters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 715.

    Qualifications have to represent the ability of the holder. It is a matter of trust. Schools and colleges are chasing targets and league table positions to prove their worth, but the trust in the system is fading. If qualifications are not trusted then it really does not matter how many people pass.

  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    Critics of teachers here largely spout superficial, bigoted impressions borne of ignorance. You need to have actual experience of working in school or your opinions will be misguided and prejudiced. I wouldn't dream of criticising your line of work if I had no recent first-hand experience of it. Political manipulation is so transparent, playing to popular misconceptions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 713.

    Unfortunately these days the word "discipline" seems to be regarded as old-fashioned and very un-PC and we are reaping the consequences of that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    709. usedtobeBill

    My original point was that when for politics the sole measures are exam grades/tables then they are they are the focus..

    The people involved are FORCED to chase whatever methods (be it easiest board, "helping" with coursework, "Coaching" to pass exam)

    IF this pressure was relaxed then competence might creep in? Proper exams & standards are important .. not artificial "grades"

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    Let me get this straight,the exam boards saw evidence of over-marking in the coursework and decided not to follow procedure which would be to lower the grades of the incorrectly marked coursework but instead chose to wait until the end of the year to give lower grades in the exam unrelated to the coursework having left pupils with supposedly unrealistic hopes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.

    When ofqual changed the boundaries for Mr Gove they didn't have these figures. They only found them after they realised they were in hot water.

    Statistics does not prove that these students did not acheive the required standard in their coursework, only remarking would do that. It would need to be measured at the january level though with the same guidelines on coursework.

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.

    695. usedtobeBill
    Improving standards should be the main focus, not the pursuit of obtaining a high number of useless grades
    Hence my 'media studies anyone' lost sarcasm.
    Agree that exam grades matter but only in those studies that matter (3 R's?). But, other than exams, how else do we measure results?

  • rate this

    Comment number 708.

    I have the greatest respect for teachers and the ones I know and knew when my children were at school are great, dedicated people but when are they going to learn that all governments are going to meddle, fiddle and generally mess with good teachers and good schools? The answer is that they need much stronger representation and, if it comes to it, strike to make a stand against this interference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 707.

    @703 navigatorjan
    Discipline is a problem in schools and society, however don't blame the teachers. Get up off your sofa, move to a mirror, in front of you is a reflection and there is the problem. It starts at home with parents that have dissolved themselves of any responsibility. Get home right and education will follow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 706.

    I love the fact that people with no experience of education other than having attended school once bleat absolute trash on these forums. Teachers are so restricted by red tape, league tables and meddling politicians, this causes these problems. allow teachers to inspire and teach without the sword of Damocles wavering over their heads. And those that slag teachers off, have a go! Good luck

  • rate this

    Comment number 705.

    695. usedtobeBill
    "Business, and education is a business, has to show expenditure = worth.Other than exam results, what other value is available for comparison?"

    I dont think areas like Education and Health should ever be viewed as purely businesses - businesses priority is to make profit?

    Improving standards should be the main focus, not the pursuit of obtaining a high number of useless grades

  • rate this

    Comment number 704.

    698. SeeDubya
    @684. Wayne

    Don't talk stupid. It doesn't matter how "devoted" a teacher is to their pupils, at the end of the day the kids that really matter are their own.
    Analogy is "Guilt, a hard thing to live with if you just walk away". I don't give to those street performers that say that either.
    My profession (not in teaching), however, is completely different from that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 703.

    697 60shadesofgrey
    You reap what you sow. Poor discipline in schools leads to poor behaviour out of school. Perhaps a short sharp shock of some sort might help - they are too soft on kids these days. I don't mean they should be beaten to within an inch of their life but discipline of some sort is a necessary evil.

  • Comment number 702.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 701.

    1990's procedure for 100% Course Work GCSE: all assignments marked internally with marking based on Exam Board published criteria; common assesment across all participating schools with special attention to Grade Boundaries; report of this to all schools along with a second assignment; all assignments re-graded by another teacher and final grades sent to Exam board with specimen papers - easy eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 700.

    Is it a spelling mistake or just a totally made-up word?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 699.

    632 Polly8122
    Trust the lasagne was good! As you may have seen from my comment at 691 I'm really on your side! Nil illigitimo carborundum - or something similar.
    It's not the teachers, it's the kids - if the kids don't want to learn, the teachers have to do something to make them employable, even if they think they are a waste of space - which some are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 698.

    684. Wayne
    In most industries there is pressure to cut corners. Doesn't mean you have to.

    Don't talk stupid. It doesn't matter how "devoted" a teacher is to their pupils, at the end of the day the kids that really matter are their own. Putting themselves out of work by not hitting idiotic targets set by self serving politicians like the chinless Mr Gove doesn't put clothes on their kids' backs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 697.

    @691.You're right.That sort of behaviour then would have resulted in expulsion.I don't know what they've got to do now to be expelled!Does the word exist anymore?
    I have many friends who have left teaching precisely because they were sick of the stress of all this.
    Too much emphasis on children's rights when the teachers are left with none.


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