The exams watchdog Ofqual is this week continuing its visits to 100 schools seeking information about the extent of this summer’s crisis over GCSE English grades.
Representatives from the regulator have been visiting some of the schools worst affected by the scandal to find out about the experiences of staff and pupils.
In a letter to heads, Glenys Stacey, Ofqual chief executive, acknowledged the mistrust that schools felt towards exam boards and the watchdog, but said that she hoped schools would help them “to get to the root of things”.
She said there had been “variations between schools that are puzzling and concerning” and that the watchdog had “developed a programme of work to find out more, so that we can all understand what has happened”.
The letter added: “We had found nothing wrong in exam boards when we wrote our initial report, and that is still the case. But we are continuing to look and to consider whether anything could have been done better in any respect.”
Ms Stacey said in-depth interviews with schools would help to shed light on the situation and specialist researchers are now in the midst of visiting 100 schools to carry these out. Their findings will be published later this month.
Three weeks ago Peggy Farrington, head at Hanham High School in South Gloucestershire, described in detail in SecEd how the GCSE English fiasco had affected her staff and pupils. Last week, her school became one of the 100 to be visited by Ofqual.
Ms Farrington told SecEd: “We received a call the day before asking if a representative from Ofqual could visit the school to speak to us about the marking of the GCSE English paper. We were very pleased to be asked and assumed this was because of the correspondence we had had with both Ofqual and the awarding body following the publication of results.
“We met with the representative for over an hour and were asked a number of set questions, the answers to which she filled in on a grid. They were very fair questions and matters we would have expected them to raise.”
The school was asked for its examinations data including predicted grades compared to actual results. In addition, staff submitted the school’s English literature results, perceived as a much harder exam than English language.
The head of English was also asked whether he believed he had fully understood the specification for the exam and whether there were aspects of the course that the school had been unhappy with.
Ms Farrington continued: “We found it a very useful and cathartic experience. We were finally able to get across the sense of outrage and disappointment that we feel about this. Our head of English was also able to make the point that it feels as though our school year has not yet started because this is rumbling on and on. It has been like the Sword of Damocles hanging over us.
“But we are pleased that there seems to be a genuine desire by Ofqual to get to the bottom of what happened with this year’s marking.”
Ms Farrington added that Hanham had submitted 43 GCSE English papers for remarking and so far only one candidate has been upgraded, from a C to B grade. The school is still awaiting the outcome of a handful of remarks but is disappointed that the exercise has not seen a wide-scale upgrading.
“At more than £33 for each paper, the remarking has so far cost us £1,500,” Ms Farrington added.
An Ofqual spokesman said the school visits were “one aspect of our on-going work looking into the concerns around GCSE English grades this summer”.
He added: “The aim is to better understand why some schools received grades that differed significantly from their expectations. We want to speak directly to schools to understand their experiences. We have approached some schools who have contacted Ofqual or teaching unions about their specific cases, and a sample of schools and colleges that have seen variations, in either direction, when compared to 2011 and those where results varied a little or not at all.”
Meanwhile, it has emerged this week that Ofsted has issued guidance to its inspectors warning them against expressing “any personal opinions” on the validity of the GCSE results.
Elsewhere, Ofqual is expected to respond tomorrow (Friday, October 5) to a legal challenge that has been lodged by an alliance of nearly 200 individual students, schools and local authorities.
The regulator has been sent a “Pre-Action Letter” by the London Borough of Lewisham, which is leading the action, and has until tomorrow to respond.