Report says UK teachers 'boosted GCSE marks'

Saturday, November 3, 2012

According to a new report by the United Kingdom exams regulator Ofqual, some teachers have been marking students' General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) coursework "significantly" too high.

"Children have been let down. That won't do".

—Glenys Stacey

Pupils sit GCSEs aged between 14–16. Part of the pupils' overall grade is made up of controlled assessment, which usually takes place in a controlled environment in school. The rest of the grade comes from the final exam.

Chief Regulator Glenys Stacey said schools were under too much pressure to achieve certain grades, which contributed to the over-marking. She also said exams place too much emphasis on teachers' marks. "We have been shocked by what we have found. Children have been let down. That won't do. It's clear that children are increasingly spending too much time jumping through hoops rather than learning the real skills they need in life. That won't do." She said English teachers had been put under particular pressure. "Teachers feel under enormous pressure in English, more than in any other subject, and we have seen that too often, this is pushing them to the limit. That won't do either."

The leaders of several teaching unions objected to the report. "For Ofqual to suggest that teachers and schools are to blame is outrageous, and flies in the face of the evidence. Ofqual is responsible for ensuring fairness and accuracy in the system", said Deputy General Sectretary of the of the ASCL union Malcolm Trobe. "The fact remains that different standards were applied to the exams in June and January and this is blatantly wrong. The accountability measures do place tremendous pressure on teachers and schools, especially at GCSE grade C, but to say that teachers would compromise their integrity to the detriment of students is an insult."

There was controversy concerning GCSE English exams in the UK earlier this year. In June's GCSE English exam, the grade boundaries were different from the exam in January, which meant thousands of pupils received lower June grades than they would have in January. The Welsh Education Minister Leighton Andrews ordered a re-grading of Welsh pupils' exam papers; pupils who sat exams in England were left with their original grades.

Ofqual released an initial report, finding that the grade boundaries set for the June exam were correct but the exam in January was in some cases "graded generously".

Pupils in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland currently sit GCSEs. This year, the UK government announced plans to replace GCSEs with a new examination, similar to the old O-levels. In Scotland pupils currently sit Standard Grade examinations, which will shortly be replaced by National 4 and 5 exams.