Accountability pressure led to GCSE fiasco, examinations boards tell MPs

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Teachers are being put under pressure to boost pupils’ marks because of school accountability, MPs investigating last summer’s GCSE English marking controversy were told last week.

Teachers are being put under pressure to boost pupils’ marks because of school accountability, MPs investigating last summer’s GCSE English marking controversy were told last week.

Representatives of the awarding bodies told Parliament’s Education Select Committee that they had spotted discrepancies in marking and blamed pressure from the high stakes involved in trying to get borderline pupils from a D to C grade.

Andrew Hall, chief executive of AQA, told the committee he did not believe schools were cheating in their marking of controlled assessment, but they were put in a position where “their judgements were influenced by the pressures of the accountability system”. This had been at the heart of last year’s problems, he said.

Mr Hall told the committee that AQA had identified peaks and troughs of marking around grade boundaries which suggested teachers were making “fine judgements”.

And he agreed with the hypothesis put forward by Graham Stuart, the committee chairman, that once teachers realised that “all they had to do was find two more marks and magically a D would become a C”, there was a temptation to “over-mark”.

Ziggy Liaquat, managing director of Edexcel, said the board had also noticed inaccurate marking by teachers.

“We adjusted downwards eight per cent and we adjusted upwards five per cent so there was inaccurate marking both ways,” he said. But he added that there was no evidence that teachers were pushing marks to cross grade boundaries.

Mr Liaquat apologised for the “distress to children and parents” that had been caused by moving the grade boundary between January’s examinations and those sat in the summer last year.

He continued: “We should be relentless in communicating that grade boundaries can constantly move,” he said. “We really need to educate teachers, parents and pupils in how the process works.”

Meanwhile, Mark Dawe, chief executive of OCR, said the board had found no evidence of over-marking of controlled assessment.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the awarding bodies’ evidence once again highlights the destructive effects of an assessment system which is tied too tightly to school accountability.

“No number of apologies for the stress to children and parents will undo the damage done to their confidence and their future prospects,” he said. 

“It was clear from the evidence that awarding bodies and the regulator were well aware that there was a problem brewing and that nothing was done to alleviate it. The fact that the government made structural changes to the regulatory bodies does not allow them to abdicate responsibility.

“Definitive, transparent standards need to be agreed and communicated to teachers for all examinations. Awards should be based on these and nothing else.

“The government needs to engage with the profession as a matter of urgency and implement a system of teacher assessment as many other high performing countries do. We all owe that to our young people.”

 


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