9,000 pupils were entered for the wrong science paper

Around 9,000 pupils were entered for the wrong science GCSE paper last year, analysis by Ofqual has revealed.

Last summer, it emerged Ofqual had been forced to lower the pass grade for GCSE science higher tier exams amid concerns a large number of pupils would receive an “unclassified” grade.

It has now emerged that this happened because around 9,000 pupils were incorrectly entered for the higher tier paper.

Ofqual analysis found the most likely reason for this “appeared to be that some schools had not appreciated the impact of the structural changes on the grades available to higher tier students and may therefore not have adjusted their approach to tier entry”.

The lowest grade normally available on the higher paper is 4-3, but Ofqual was forced to drop this threshold down to 3-3 last year to avoid too many pupils dropping below the threshold and being “unclassified”.

Ofqual said: “We were confident that had these students been entered for the foundation tier they would have achieved such a grade. We therefore allowed the exam boards to award a 3-3 grade on higher tier in combined science in 2018, which benefitted 4,700 students (with more students also getting a grade 4-3).”

The regulator has said there will be no such leniency this year.

The accounts also show complaints about exam boards increased 43 per cent. Ofqual handled 319 complaints about exam boards in 2018-19, up from 223 last year.

However, it’s important to point out this includes organisations that award vocational qualifications – which make up the majority of the market that Ofqual regulates – not just the four exam boards that issue GCSEs and A-levels.

There were indications of non-compliance in 16 instances, down from 20 last year. The organisations concerned were “referred to our relevant standards teams for further consideration of potential non-compliance”, Ofqual said.

Ofqual received 34 whistleblowing disclosures in 2018-19, down from 50 last year. Thirty of the 34 disclosures related to exam boards and were referred to the relevant organisation for further action. Twenty three were investigated, and four resulted in further action.

This year, the watchdog spent £1,724,000 on the national reference test, which aims to provide more information about the awarding of GCSEs, down from £2,051,000 last year.

This was the third year the test ran, and the first when information from the test has informed awarding. Just under 20,000 students from 300 schools took part in the test in February and March.