GCSE 2012 – a perfect storm

Janet Downs's picture
Conditions were right for a perfect storm according to a TES article (5 Oct 2012) which compared the 2012 GCSE grade debacle with a similar controversy a decade ago.

The article identified the following factors which contributed to this year’s fiasco:

1 The establishment of Ofqual in 2010 as a replacement for exam regulator the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA).

2 Changes at senior management level at Ofqual. Although less than three years old Ofqual already has its second chief executive and second chair – neither is experienced in public examinations.

3 The introduction of new modular qualifications.

4 The instruction given by Ofqual to exam boards telling them to avoid grade inflation and to ensure that results were in line with previous years.

5 Changes at senior management level at exam boards.

6 Relocation of Ofqual to the Midlands with huge loss of personnel. Less that 25% of Ofqual’s staff had experience with the previous regulator. Ofqual said in March that it needed more expertise.

7 Failure of Ofqual to put in place an identified solution to problems with modular qualifications which the regulator found three years ago.

8 The heavily-publicised views of Secretary of State, Michael Gove, about grade inflation.

9 The expectation placed on the head of Ofqual, Glenys Stacey, that standards must be maintained over time. Stacey’s predecessor, Kahleen Tattersall, while also concerned with standards, was viewed as “much more of a standard bearer for fairness and equity” by Ofqual insiders.

10 The overruling by Ofqual of the professional judgement of at least one exam board.

11 Exam boards avoiding any public condemnation of Ofqual because of fears that doing so would jeopardise chances of being offered a franchise for Gove’s GCSE replacements. These franchises will be decided by Ofqual and the Department for Education. There was, therefore, a powerful business incentive for the exam boards to keep quiet.

In 2002, when a similar controversy surrounded modular A levels, the chairman of QCA, the former regulator, Sir William Stubbs, was sacked. The scandal triggered the resignation of Estelle Morris, the then education secretary, and thousands of exams were regraded. A “big political player from 2002” told TES that the 2002 decisions were “right educationally and wrong politically.” In 2012, however, “it is the other way round. It is dishonourable.”

The article concludes that “pupils and their teachers can only nod and agree.” I would add angry parents to that group.

The perfect storm is not over – it is merely the eye of the hurricane.

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Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 08/10/2012 - 14:01

It's great to this clear explanation which makes perfect sense.

But I think it's lacking insight into the challenges examinations and qualifications have faced due to the Wolf influence?

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