Ofqual Conclusions are Farcical

Henry Stewart's picture
So Ofqual has investigated the controversy over English GCSEs in the summer and produced its report. It finds that exam boards had to increase the grade boundaries to balance over-marking on the controlled assessments in some schools.

This may be what happened but to accept it as appropriate is ludicrous. What it means is that students in all schools face a higher grade boundary set because of over-marking in only some schools. So schools that did not over-mark find themselves facing the greatest punishment.

In any sensible world the response to over-marking would be to check school assessed papers and correct the errors. Internal teacher assessment for GCSEs is not new and happens in many subjects. Teachers know that they must accurately, as their papers may be checked and their students downgraded. Why this didn't happen with English GCSE is unclear, though it may be what the report refers to as "design problems".

The press release quotes Glenys Stacey, Ofqual Chief Executive, as defending what happened by saying “Overall, the grading of GCSE English in the summer of 2012 was a fair reflection of the performance of pupils as a whole." 

This is a nonsense. What the report makes clear is that some students (where over-marking took place) will get higher grades than they deserved. others (where schools marked correctly) will get lower grades than they deserved. But, to Ofqual, the result is "fair" because the overall % passing English GCSE is about right.

Last year students in schools that put their whole Year 11 in for early entry in January 2012 did very well. Those where teachers over-marked, according to this report, also gained benefit from it. But students who took the exam in June 2012 and whose teachers did not over-mark have been punished with lower grades.

The duty of Ofqual is surely to ensure all students are fairly assessed in their exams, not just that the overall % was about right.  It is clear from this report that Ofqual has failed in this duty and also failed to recognise its failure in this report.

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Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 02/11/2012 - 10:09

Yes, it appears that you are right; their conclusions appear to be logically inconsistent. I have just done a post on this as well, but said different things because behind the report is the suggestion that the league tables are corrupting teachers.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Fri, 02/11/2012 - 10:34

Was waiting for your point to be made on Breakfast this am Henry . Punishing all for the sins of some. It wasn't.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 02/11/2012 - 11:43

"The fiasco has prompted a massive loss of trust in the whole exams system and resulted in 93 per cent of secondaries losing faith in Ofqual, the survey reveals, with more than half saying they now have “no confidence” in the exams regulator."

Just one sentence in an article in TES today which places the blame for the GCSE "grading fiasco" on Secretary of State, Michael Gove.

A valiant DfE spokesperson defended Ofqual and added that the Government has made it clear that GCSEs need desperately overhauling.

The Government has made it clear that it believes the exams which pupils are studying for today are rubbish. However, having done its best to undermine the exam's credibility what does it propose to put in their place? A backward-looking, out-of-touch batch of certificates taken at 16 which will not match the world's best.

If I were one of these pupils, or their parents, or a teacher, I would be angry, very angry indeed.


Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 02/11/2012 - 11:46

The report says, “Controlled assessment boundaries for the internally-marked controlled assessments were set differently in June... This meant that the average mark for a piece of work of a particular standard was higher in June than in January, and examiners judging the standard of work set the grade boundaries to reflect that.”

So, because average marks were HIGHER in June than in January the examiners raised the bar. If they hadn’t, then they would have faced accusations of grade inflations and “dumbing-down”. This strongly suggests they were under pressure to reduce the number of candidates gaining grade C or above. This is despite grade criteria and marks being set when exam boards published details about the GCSE English exams in 2009.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 02/11/2012 - 12:53

The report cites problems with the design of the exam but Ofqual identified problems in 2009. However, it rejected possible answers. Possible solutions were given in a seminar by Ofqual's former Chief Executive, Isabel Nisbet. The final slide posed a challenge, “IF YOU DON’T LIKE THEM, AND YOU THINK THAT MAINTAINING STANDARDS AT THE LEVEL OF THE QUALIFICATION MATTERS. WHAT’S YOUR ALTERNATIVE?” (Ofqual’s capital letters).

In other words, we, Ofqual, haven’t a clue how to solve these problems – if you think you’ve got an answer then give it.


Nick Soar's picture
Fri, 02/11/2012 - 15:42

But of course any new leader of Ofqual won't have read those slides I imagine & Stacey certainly doesn't seem to comprehend the problem of maintaining a fixed pass rate in a qualification designed to allow all learners to improve through re-sits & modular exams.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 02/11/2012 - 15:55

Nick - Ofqual actually used these slides as evidence in their "Myths about Ofqual's Report into GCSE English 2012" article which included a supposed rebuttal of "Ofqual knew in 2009 that there would be problems with awarding modular GCSEs and did nothing about it". The second piece of evidence Ofqual cited was linked to "Page not found - That page might exist on our old site or the National Archives".

Perhaps Stacey didn't read the last slide asking people to come up with their own alternative.


Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 02/11/2012 - 12:54

Glenys Stacey, Ofqual’s Chief Executive, warned that “care must be taken to ensure the introductions of any new exams, such as the proposed English Baccalaureate Certificates, learn the lessons of the design failures in GCSE English”.

I doubt Gove will listen – the 16+ exam regime proposed for England is already a massive “design failure” which does not match the world’s best.


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