GCSE English 2012 debacle – TES letters fume with anger

Janet Downs's picture
To accuse teachers of manipulating marks… is a gross insult,” writes Simon Gibbons, Chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English, in a letter describing his anger about the Ofqual report into the GCSE English 2012 fiasco and remarks by Glenys Stacy, Ofqual’s Chief Executive, to the media. He describes how the pressure on teachers to deliver results has been intensified by an ever-tightening accountability regime.

His view is echoed in a letter by Yvonne Williams who points out that “in the race for results, real learning and genuine teaching are being sacrificed.” Strident voices in the press and Parliament have “filtered into school accountability systems” which she describes as “suffocating tracking apparatuses”. Regular readers will know that these concerns were voiced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in its Economic Survey of the UK in 2011 when it warned that the excessive emphasis on raw exam results in England could have negative effects which included “teaching-to-the-test” and ignoring important non-cognitive skills.

Adrian Barlow, Chair of the English Association, explained how teachers “are berated for either not understanding the standards to which they should be teaching or deliberately inflating marks awarded for controlled assessment in order to protect themselves from the wrath of Gove” if they failed to reach benchmarks. He said teachers were in an impossible situation – expected to make predictions about grades and then being made to look stupid when a new exam is “structurally flawed”. Barlow wants teachers of English to heed the call of Geoff Barton, writing in the English Association journal, The Use of English, for all English teachers, wherever they are and whatever stage they teach, to join together and “argue with a passion for what English is and what it can do for us all”.

George Bethell, Director of Anglia Assessment, pointed out the mismatch between the role of moderation as described in Ofqual’s report and Ofqual’s own definition of moderation. According to the report, “moderation is not able to, nor was it designed to, counter this degree of over-marking.” But Ofqual defines moderation as the way “through which adjustments are made to ensure results are based on the required standard.”

The head of Pool Hayes Arts and Community School, Jim Clarke, also “fumed with indignation” at Ofqual’s comments to the media which blamed teachers but failed to recognise the role of exam boards’ moderators who should have adjusted controlled assessment marks if they felt the marks were too generous. He had heard of no such wholesale adjustment. He also pointed out that if teachers had been too generous as claimed then this would have been noticeable at all grades not just the C/D borderline. He ended his letter by saying that confidence in the exam system had been put at risk by Ofqual’s actions.

Colin Richards’ witty comment on the fiasco turned on the definition of the word “forensically” which Ofqual had used to describe its investigation into the workings of the new English GCSE exam. He pointed out that the dictionary definition of “forensic” was “used in courts of law in relation to crime detection”. He concludes, “So Ofqual claims to have detected that a crime has been committed. But by whom? By Ofqual itself?”

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