New GCSE remark rules cause headache for heads

A new rule requiring schools to seek permission from pupils before submitting their GCSE exams for re-marking is causing an “administrative burden” for leaders trying to challenge marking mistakes that affect a whole cohort.

The rule change, announced last year, also means that GCSE exam papers submitted for re-marks from this summer are at risk of being marked down as well as up, so schools must get permission from pupils before sending papers.

Previously, schools with concerns about GCSE exam marking could submit large groups of pupils for re-marking without any fear that they would drop grades.

Schools that identified mistakes in a small number of cases could then send in a whole batch for re-marking, and only those considered to have been short-changed would see their scores affected.

But the change is proving to be “an administrative burden”, according to Suzanne O’Farrell, the curriculum and assessment specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, members of which have raised the matter more than once.

The implications for schools in terms of workload and administration are significant

“I understand the principle behind it, trying to be fair to all students, but if students have moved into a different setting and there is a concern about mistakes at a cohort level, it can get very difficult to get those permissions,” she told Schools Week.

“I can see where Ofqual is coming from in trying to ensure students get an accurate grade, but I think the implications for schools in terms of workload and administration are significant.”

Kesgrave High School in Ipswich was forced to obtain the permission of 45 pupils before it could submit their papers for re-marks in both English and maths this year after mistakes were identified.

Nigel Burgoyne, the school’s headteacher, said that in one case, more than a third of papers had been “significantly undermarked”, but the school’s options were limited.

“In the past, this would trigger an extended re-mark for the cohort, but under the new regulations this cannot be offered as the board is not allowed to protect the mark or grade of any candidate,” he said.

“We were therefore allowed to submit within 10 working days candidates to be reviewed with their permission. The centre has submitted a further 45 candidates. Clearly it was difficult to risk the grades of our candidates, so many will potentially not receive their accurate mark.”

Burgoyne believes his school’s “legitimate desire” to gain fair marking for pupils has been blocked “because we cannot risk student grades, or gather consent from so many students”.

“Is this regulation change a mechanism simply to stop justified extended re-marks, rather than to enhance the accuracy and quality of the marking in the examination system?” he asked.

The change was announced by Ofqual in May 2016, but was only enforced for the first time in this summer’s exam series.

At the time of the announcement Ofqual argued it was “not fair” for a candidate who was given a higher result than their performance deserved to “automatically keep that result purely because the error was discovered through a review”.