Ofqual cracks down on exam board reviewers’ marking changes

Ofqual was “especially disappointed” by the extent to which exam boards changed grades last year, and ensuring it doesn’t happen again is a “key priority”, according to a senior figure.

Richard Garrett, the regulator’s director of strategic relationships, said Ofqual was considering what action should be taken against boards which failed to crack down on marking changes.

Statistics published in December showed the number of GCSE grades changed after marking review last year increased by 52 per cent, with over 25,000 more changes than in 2016.

A total of 73,840 GCSE grades were changed, compared with 48,430 the year before, despite just a three-per-cent increase in the number of entries.

At the time, Ofqual said the rise was largely due to an increase in the number of successful review requests in both the new and legacy versions of GCSE English language and English literature.

Speaking at the Westminster Education Forum today, Garrett said Ofqual wants to exam board reviewers to make corrections only if there are errors in the original marking, rather than giving the pupil the benefit of the doubt or differing in “academic judgement” from the original marker.

New rules designed to reduce marking inconsistencies came into force for exams in 2017.

“It was unfair on all of those who didn’t seek a review. Our new rules make it really clear that it’s only errors that should be corrected and exam boards must specifically train and monitor staff to make sure it happens,” said Garrett.

“So we were especially disappointed this year to find that not enough had been done by exam boards to change these old practices and meet our revised expectations for reviews of marking.

“It will be an absolutely key priority for us to make sure this issue is rectified and these changes are seen in the reviews that are undertaken this year.”

However, he emphasised that every actual error in marking, “no matter how large or small”, should still be corrected in reviews.

Garrett also said changes to the appeal system should only be used as a “last resort”.

Previously, a further appeal after a review would focus only on the procedures used by the exam board when marking the test, but schools will now be able to appeal the mark itself if they believe it was not corrected during the review.

Garrett said the changes to the appeal process, which will come into force for the new A-levels and the new maths and English GCSEs this summer, and for all other subjects from 2019, will act as a “safety net” to pick up on anything missed by the review.

This piece originally said changes to the appeal process would begin for the new maths and English GCSEs from 2019 and all other subjects from 2020, but was corrected after clarification from Ofqual. 

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