OCR will be fined £175,000 for its Romeo and Juliet mix-up

Ofqual intends to fine exam board OCR £175,000 for a glaring error made in a GCSE paper in May last year.

The OCR GCSE English literature paper confusingly referred to the Romeo and Juliet character Tybalt’s hatred of the Capulets, his own family, rather than the Montagues, their rivals.

Ofqual formally issued OCR with a notice of intention to fine the exam board £175,000 on May 18. The notice has been published for the first time today.

“Although OCR acted to mitigate the breach, 2,735 of the learners directly affected by the breach were awarded a result which had been calculated based on their performance in other GCSE English literature questions, because they had performed less well in relation to Romeo and Juliet questions than those other components,” it said.

Schools Week reported last May that OCR had apologised for the gaffe and said it would ensure that none of the estimated 14,000 pupils at 150 schools who sat the exam would be disadvantaged.

The board promised to take account of the error in its marking process, but Ofqual said at the time that it was “very disappointed” to learn of it.

The resulting fine was not made public until today because the regulator was waiting for this year’s round of exams to finish, in accordance with its “usual policy not to make significant announcements during that period”.

Ofqual decided that a fine was appropriate in this circumstance, as the question had been made “unanswerable” as a result of the mistake.

“Interested parties” in the case now have the opportunity “to make representations”  in respect of the planned fine, until July 16.

GCSE English literature was amongst the first qualifications to be reformed by the government alongside Maths and English language, and 2017 was the first year for the award of any reformed GCSE qualification.

The error appeared in Question 4, the first of the two ‘Romeo and Juliet’ questions on Paper 2. Candidates were required to answer one of the two questions, and the alternative ‘Romeo and Juliet’ question (Question 5) did not include an extract from the play. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was the most popular of the Shakespeare options in the exam.