AQA admits two further rule breaches over re-marks, but won't get another fine

The exam board AQA breached rules relating to the re-marking of exams again last autumn – despite having just been handed the largest ever fine by Ofqual for the same offence across earlier years.

But the company will not be handed an additional fine for the latest incidents, after being ordered to shell out more than £1 million last year.

In October, it was revealed that AQA would be fined £350,000 and would compensate schools £740,000 following “serious breaches” of the rules in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The exam board was also fined £50,000 over issues with its 2018 French A-level marking scheme.

The board had failed to ensure re-marks and moderation of GCSEs and A-levels were not carried out by the original marker, or by someone without a personal interest in the outcome.

Now Ofqual has revealed that AQA reported two further breaches last autumn, after it delivered 350,000 reviews of marking and moderation.

In both cases, the scripts were reviewed again by an independent reviewer, but this did not result in any grade changes, and, according to AQA, there were “no adverse effects on learners”.

The exam board claimed the breaches occurred because of human error “because the individuals undertaking the manual allocations failed to undertake the prescribed checks to ensure independent reviewing”.

Ofqual’s enforcement committee accepted AQA’s submission that the two cases were exceptional, and were the result of human error and not systemic process failures.

The committee decided not to impose a further fine on AQA, but will seek to claw back the costs of its investigation.

The details of the two breaches were revealed in a notice of monetary penalty issued by Ofqual today, which confirms the amount of the fine issued last year.

Ofqual has also announced it will seek to recover costs totalling £19,083 from the exam board in relation to the breaches in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

The regulator will also seek to recover £5,942 in connection with the 2018 French A-level fine.

An AQA spokesperson said: “This was human error that only affected two of the 350,000 reviews we carried out last summer. Overall, the measures we put in place to make sure reviews are carried out independently have been a big success.”

Mark Bedlow, the board’s interim CEO, said the past issue that caused the breaches between 2016 and 2018 had been fixed and didn’t affect the outcome of any reviews either.

“Reviews of marking are only carried out by our best, most experienced examiners who are very unlikely to have made mistakes in their original marking – and, in the vast majority of cases, we’re talking about one isolated, anonymised answer from a paper being reviewed by the senior examiner who originally marked it.

“But reviews should always be carried out by a fresh pair of eyes and we’re sorry that, for a small proportion in the past, this wasn’t the case. We’ve made sure we get this right now.”