OCR apologises for 2011 marking errors

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As many as 4,000 marking mistakes could have occurred during the awarding of OCR's summer 2011 examinations, Ofqual has said.

As many as 4,000 marking mistakes could have occurred during the awarding of OCR’s summer 2011 examinations, Ofqual has said.

The exams watchdog found that 1,370 “mistakes in adding up” occurred across 100,000 scripts from the summer 2011 exam series. The mistakes led to changes to 251 unit or qualification grades.

However, many scripts were destroyed in line with normal processes and before the full scale of the problem was known. As a result, Ofqual does not know how many more mistakes might have occurred.

Its report into the incident, published this week, states: “Based on its checks in 2012, OCR has estimated that there may have been in the region of a further 2,650 mistakes which were not found and rectified (in 2011). Given the proportion of changes made through the scripts which were checked, it is likely that around 500 of these would have led to unit grade changes.”

OCR this week said it was ”deeply sorry and regretful” over the incident.

The mistakes were first noticed by OCR warehouse staff who were scanning scripts to be sent to schools and colleges. They brought the issue to the attention of managers and then eventually to senior executives.

A whistle-blower from within OCR also contacted Ofqual to express his concerns. He later went to Channel 4 News and also personally contacted 30 schools and colleges identifying 33 candidates where he perceived a mistake had been made.

Ofqual ruled this week that “failures within OCR’s management procedures resulted in an unacceptable number of clerical errors”. It said that OCR’s systems for avoiding mistakes in adding up “in the summer 2011 and previous exams was inadequate”.

Its report states: “The only system OCR used to detect and correct clerical errors at the time of the summer 2011 series was to require examiners to employ a checker. There was no separate system to make sure that these checks had taken place or to check how effective they were.”

As a result of the incident, OCR terminated the contracts of four examiners and placed a further 77 on a notice to improve earlier this year. OCR has also changed the results for a total of 276 candidates.

Ofqual has now issued a legally binding “Direction” to OCR, ordering the awarding body to tighten up its procedures. 

A statement said: “OCR is now legally required to take all necessary steps to make sure qualification results are accurate. This includes reviewing its procedures, practices and the senior team’s accountabilities.”

Chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: “The number of clerical errors made by OCR examiners when adding up candidates’ marks in the summer of 2011 was simply not acceptable. OCR did not have adequate arrangements in place to check for such errors. When the problems came to light, senior managers did not take control of the situation to identify the full scope of what had happened, or make sure all the results were right.”

Ms Stacey emphasised that OCR had not deliberately misled the regulator, but said that “decisions made about the handling of the issue meant that it was not made clear to us how significant the scale of the problem was at an early stage”.

She added: “We required OCR to make improvements to its procedures in time for the next series of exams in January this year, and to ensure these remained in place for this summer’s exams. These were independently verified and were found to be working.  

“The Direction we have issued will ensure that the way the organisation works in future makes it less likely such a significant problem such as clerical errors could go un-noticed and then not be property rectified.”

Mark Dawe, OCR chief executive, said: “I am deeply saddened and disappointed that these clerical errors were made during my first year in post. Some of the legacy operational systems were clearly in need of revision and Ofqual’s Direction is helping me to carry out a wider ranging reform of our systems, practice and procedures.

“I would like to reassure teachers and students that the improved processes and systems we already have in place are delivering the highest level of clerical accuracy.”


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