North east heads air exam marking quality grievances with Ofqual

Worries about oversight of exam marking were aired when Ofqual’s chair faced headteachers from across the north east today.

Amanda Spielman (pictured), who appeared at the meeting instead of chief regulator Glenys Stacey, has thanked heads for a “very open discussion” after they came together to warn of ongoing problems with marking, moderation and the appeals process.

It comes after the watchdog was urged to meet leaders in the region by education select committee chair Neil Carmichael following the submission of evidence by the organisation Schools North East (Schools NE) earlier this year.

Iain Veitch, the vice-chair of Schools NE and headteacher of Park View School in County Durham, told Schools Week that he and colleagues had raised four concerns during the session, concluding that Ofqual was at present too “reactive” and only responded to problems when they were “flagged up”, rather than proactively taking them on.

He said: “First of all there is intense disquiet about English GCSEs this summer and the volatility of the results. My experience and the experience of heads across the north east was that marking in GCSE English raised alarm bells.

“The second thing was the quality of marking at both GCSE and A level across a range of subjects and the feeling that there are people marking papers who are simply not up to the job.”

He said heads had claimed some of their own members of staff who also worked as examiners had seen fellow markers rise to team leader roles despite having been reported for poor performance, while others had been offered “twice the normal pay to stay on” because of the volume of marking needing to be done.

He said heads also worried about the moderation of coursework, and how this differed from year to year, and warned schools were “hitting a brick wall” after reaching just the first stage of the appeals process for exam results.

Mr Veitch said Ms Spielman had done her best to “allay heads’ fears”, and had said “some interesting things”, but he expressed frustration that she was only able to take notes and report back, rather than commit to things, which he said Ms Stacey would have been able to do.

He said: “She couldn’t agree or disagree with anything, which was frustrating, but I understand totally why.”

Ms Spielman said: “It is always good to hear things first hand, and we had a very open discussion. I was glad to be able to explain what we do to maintain exam standards, and our commitment to maintaining confidence.

“We got a lot of useful feedback and some interesting ideas were raised which we will consider.”

A spokesperson said Ms Stacey did not attend because of an “unavoidable change in her calendar”.

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