Ofqual should be ashamed of its report into the GCSE scandal

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The GCSE grading report shames Ofqual. Not only has the watchdog failed miserably to investigate its own role in the fiasco the exercise leaves thousands of students still waiting for justice, says SecEd editor Pete Henshaw.

It was not the poor design of GCSE English that led to grade variations – it was plain and simply the decision by Ofqual and awarding bodies, in a climate of fierce political rhetoric about rising pass rates, to hike up the grade boundaries, thus unfairly disadvantaging thousands of students.

If teachers across the nation were involved in shameless over-marking as Ofqual claimed this week in its final report into the GCSE fiasco (see full article here), then why were there so many examples of awarding bodies (who let’s not forget externally moderate the controlled assessment) praising the schools affected for their grading?

No. The Ofqual report is a shocking attempt to shift the blame onto teachers and to blame an exam structure which is being phased out anyway – but then what did we expect from a report being carried out by the regulator into its own performance?

The real problem with all of this is that Ofqual, politicians, and the mainstream media, are all now ignoring the issue that really matters – achieving justice for the pupils.

Ofqual’s report talks of cheating teachers and broken exam structures (music to the ears of the Department for Education and the media) but barely addresses the fact that still remains untouched – that 10,000 students who were unfairly down-graded in the June examinations and put at a distinct disadvantage compared with their January peers are still left without justice. Ofqual has not addressed this unfairness in its report and no-one seems to care in the media scrum to slam teachers as cheats.

The debate about “how and why” should be held, of course, but the fact remains that we have an exam in which a certain mark in January was worth a C, but that same mark in June was worth a D and this circle needs squaring – something which will only be achieved by a regrade (as has been shown in Wales). We can then focus on changing systems to solve the problem.

This is important because we must act to try and reverse the devastation that has been inflicted on the career aspirations of thousands of students who had, with the guidance of their teachers, gained enough marks to be awarded a C but got a D because they sat in June.

Let’s be clear – many of these 10,000 students have had career aspirations ruined because of the actions of the exams regulator.

I for one hope the alliance fighting for GCSE grading justice gets its day in court and perhaps then we can actually have an independent assessment of what has happened – and perhaps then 10,000 students who missed out unfairly on a grade C will get justice and their education will get back on track.

Elsewhere, surely the time has come to scrap league tables and arbitrary benchmarks of attainment? If the GCSE debacle has taught us anything it is that the pressure on the D to C grade boundary is obscenely affecting our view of what a quality education should be about.

While I absolutely reject the exam regulator’s finding that teachers’ over-generous marking is at fault for the English GCSE debacle, there are a number of strikingly clear comments in the report about the pressure that schools and teachers are under to achieve a C grade for their students and I do agree that this perverse focus is why a relatively small hike in marks can cause such devastation.

Remember, for the sake of a handful of marks students’ paths have been dramatically altered; panicked youngsters are being forced to make new plans at the drop of a hat.

The one silver lining in this report that I can see is that Ofqual is calling into question the impact of our accountability system. So far in this GCSE fiasco, our education secretary Michael Gove has held the views of the regulator as if they are sacrosanct – I hope he’s listening to his pet watchdog now and wakes up to the devastating impact that tables and arbitrary and antiquated benchmarks of achievement have on genuine education.


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