Suffolk: Fairness of GCSE marking now in question

THE full impact of the marking of GCSE English papers has been detailed for the first time by education chiefs.

Exams regulator Ofqual yesterday admitted the grading saga has had a “serious impact on perceptions of fairness”.

Data from the county’s secondary schools and academies has also been passed to Suffolk County Council, particularly about the English and maths GCSEs, giving a clearer picture of the complaints.

It shows schools have seen significant falls in results depending on the month in which the students were assessed, the greatest inconsistency lies between grades C and D and that for a number of students, the final grade they achieved was less dependent on the quality of their work and more on which exam board and when students sat the exam.

In a letter printed in today’s East Anglian Daily Times, Graham Newman, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education and young people, claims headteachers and parents are quite rightly concerned about the grades awarded to students.

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“A major concern expressed to us by all of the schools and parents is the impact of these inconsistencies on the young people of Suffolk,” he said.

“We have had many examples of students who were expected to get C grades who are now unable to access the next stage of their education or training or are having difficulties securing offers of employment.” Mr Newman said the issue is not about the quality of marking but about the change made to the grade boundaries.

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Many students received lower grades than expected in their English examinations when GCSE results were handed out last month.

Last year 56% of pupils in Suffolk achieved five or more A*-C grades including English and maths but early figures for this year suggest the number has slipped by up to four percent.

“From the evidence we have, it seems clear that the goal posts have been moved without warning and this has undermined the credibility of the entire examination system with students, employers, parents, schools and further education institutions,” Mr Newman added.

“It is unprecedented for the grade boundaries to have been changed so significantly mid year without any prior notification to students or their teachers

“If there is a perceived need to raise the standard of a GCSE pass, surely this needs to be done more consistently across the various examination boards, and in the full knowledge of students and teachers at the start of the course.”

In a written submission to MPs, Ofqual has insisted there has been no political interference in the exams and that all the evidence pointed towards decisions being harsh.

The submission, sent to the Commons education select committee ahead of yesterday’s evidence session, sets out Ofqual’s investigation so far into the GCSE grading crisis.

It says that, in general, the awarding of modular GCSEs - in which pupils sit exams and submit coursework over a two-year period - has been successful but that it has not been the case with new modular GCSES which were awarded for the first time this year.

An Ofqual spokesman said: “We recognise the significance of the issues with GCSE English this summer: the generosity of the awards in assessments taken before June 2012 has had a serious impact on perceptions of fairness at qualification level.

“If we were not already planning to remove modular GCSEs after the current school year, we think there would now be a strong case for doing so.”

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