Exam boards should be fined for errors in exam papers this year, the influential chair of the education select committee has urged.
Schools Week has reported on several mistakes in exam papers and advance information in the first summer exam series since the pandemic began.
Robert Halfon said it was “deeply regrettable” that “due to an apparent lack of due care and attention, some exam boards have issued papers that ignored the advance information or contained errors”.
In a letter to new education secretary James Cleverly on behalf of the committee, the Conservative MP said: “This negligence on the part of exam boards would have resulted in pupils facing unnecessary distress and anxiety during this already stressful period of high stakes summer exams.
“In addition, these errors risk undermining public confidence in the exams system.”
Halfon urged exams regulator Ofqual to “levy financial penalties” on boards whose papers contained errors. Fines should be “proportionate to the scale of the errors, and significant enough to act as a strong deterrent,” he added.
He also said exam boards must issue full marks for questions with errors and “ensure this decision is communicated to schools and pupils without delay”.
AQA has already done this for its GCSE physics paper which included a question on a topic specifically ruled out in advance information.
Halfon lists four examples of problems – three attributed to AQA, which includes an A-level law paper including a 30-mark question on a topic not in advance information.
He also points to an AQA GCSE geography paper which, as revealed by Schools Week, featured a question that included a coloured map and key that were inaccessible to colour blind pupils.
Edexcel has also apologised over an error in its GCSE Geography B paper 3 which labelled Gabon as the Democratic Republic of Congo on a map of Africa.
Halfon said: “While errors in exam papers, and the issuing fines in response, are not
unprecedented, we believe the consequences of such errors are more profound
this year, given the educational disadvantage pupils faced during the pandemic.”
Dr Jo Saxton, Ofqual’s chief regulator, has previously acknowledged that the mistakes caused “distress”.
In a letter to the committee earlier this month, she said of the 354 specifications with advance information, “only a handful of errors have emerged”.
“Our first priority is to regulate on behalf of students, and accordingly we expect the awarding organisations to make sure students’ interests are protected and the integrity of the qualification is upheld.
“We will closely monitor the awarding process to make sure that students are
not disadvantaged compared to those taking the same qualification with another exam
“Regulatory action is, of course, also in scope and is something we will consider
once the immediate interests of students are protected.”
In 2018, OCR was fined £175,000 after a mix up over Romeo and Juliet characters. Then in 2019, AQA was fined £350,000 – the largest penalty ever handed out by Ofqual – for “serious breaches” of re-marking rules.
The Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents exam boards, said: “Exam boards work hard to make sure their materials are error-free – and, of the many thousands of question papers and advance information documents produced in another unusual year, there have only been a very small number of errors.
“In these cases, exam boards have quickly taken appropriate action to put things right and make sure students aren’t disadvantaged.”