Ofqual won't regulate private teacher-examiner numbers despite cheating scandal

Ofqual will not limit the number of teacher-examiners at private schools, despite a wave of cheating allegations at some of the country’s most prestigious schools last summer.

The regulator has also decided not to introduce a “red alert” system to try and catch erroneous marks before they are released to students, and says it has no power to ask exam boards to lower the price of marking appeals in deprived areas.

Chief regulator Sally Collier has written to Robert Halfon, the chair of the parliamentary education committee, with responses to questions from a hearing last December.

In response to a question about whether a limit should be imposed on the number of teachers from independent schools that work as examiners, Collier said “the quality of assessment and the system as a whole is best served by involvement as senior examiners from teachers from the widest range of schools and colleges”.

Exam boards will be asked to “specifically track the proportions of their examiners coming from different schools” but Ofqual is not planning to put in place any further restrictions on who can be examiners based on what type of school they teach in, warning that the “quality” of exam papers could “suffer” otherwise.

Boards will also be expected to introduce a “significant package of safeguards which is stronger than those previously in place”, including ensuring teachers involved in the production of assessment materials do not know if or when the questions they have written will be used.

In March, Ofqual announced a consultation on reforms that might reduce the risk of cheating by teacher-examiners, including asking boards to check teaching plans, monitor social media and track “unusual exam results” and asking teacher examiners to make an “annual declaration” that they are complying with the rules.

Plans to stop teachers from helping write exams on subjects that they teach were first announced last December, amid a cheating storm at prestigious schools including Eton and Winchester College, where some pupils had their results nullified.

Collier also rejected red alerts to flag up any potentially erroneous GCSE and A-level results before they are released to students, saying it would not be “efficient or effective” for boards to rely on predicted grades to spot marking errors, and said there were no plans to make the boards “take further steps in this area”.

In response to a question from the committee about whether there should be a deprivation-based approach for charging for reviews of marking, Collier claimed Ofqual lacks the power to require exam boards to set differentiated pricing for different groups of students, and added that exam boards had no plans to bring in such arrangements.

However, the change in rules to ensure that boards have to provide schools with exam scripts upon request by 2020 would help identify whether marking errors were to blame for a “disappointing” result. Pearson has already begun doing this, and schools using the service are submitting fewer requests for reviews, though a higher proportion of those they did submit were successful.

The letter also revealed the watchdog still regards a grade 4 in the new GCSE grading scale as the equivalent of a ‘C’, even though the government now regards it as a “standard” pass and grade 5 as a “strong” pass.

Collier said Ofqual had “clearly and consistently stated” since September 2014 that there are “three fixed points of alignment” between the old and new GCSE grading scales, found at the bottom of grades 1 and G, 4 and C and 7 and A.

“Ofqual’s expectations and requirements have not changed at all,” she said.

She is also “pleased to report that we are looking at whether our [malpractice] reporting should be extended to the full range of qualifications we regulate, not just those used as alternatives to GCSE and A levels, like the Pre-U”, and said Ofqual is looking at how and when data collection issues surrounding the plan can be addressed.