Six things we learned about Ofqual from its annual report

Ofqual's director for standards Cath Jadhav will move to Pearson to become the exam board's responsible officer

Ofqual received more than 7,000 phone calls last August over the exams fiasco, new figures show.

The exams regulator has published its annual report for 2020-21, and once again acknowledged its handling of standardised grades “had a detrimental impact on public trust and confidence in qualifications”.

Here are five things we learned from the report.


1. Ofqual received 27,000 calls and emails

The regulator said enquiries from the public almost tripled last year because of the “unprecedented” changes to exams amid the pandemic.

It received almost 17,000 calls throughout the financial year to the end of March, including 7,000 in August alone – more than 225 a day.

It also received more than 10,000 emails. The organisation said it had increased staffing to deal with public enquiries, and managed to answer more than 90 per cent of calls.


2.  Complaints over exam boards soar

Ofqual received 1,329 complaints about awarding organisations, more than three times the 397 complaints a year earlier. 908 were about exam boards.

Only 39 cases or 4 per cent of the total saw Ofqual find awarding bodies “may not have acted in line with our regulatory requirements”.

Ofqual itself received 380 complaints, with 57 per cent about results and post-results outcomes. It said complaints were not upheld for the majority as they related to issues under consultation or about policy.


3. Stark drop in grades challenged

Ofqual saw 27,650 grades challenged at GCSE, AS and A-level in 2020.

But the figure marked a stark decline on the previous year, making up only 0.5 per cent of the total 6 million grades given compared to 6 per cent the previous year.

Just under one in five challenges resulted in grades being changed.

Ofqual said the “vast majority” of appeals were on the basis of “centre error”, including schools or colleges submitting the wrong centre-assessed grade to the exam board.


4. Two emergency board meetings a month

One sign of the scale of the upheaval and challenges facing Ofqual last year is the number of times its board was convened for emergency meetings.

They met no fewer than 29 times in the financial year, with virtual meetings enabling the board to “be more agile and flexible to meeting at short notice”.


5. Staff travel bill sinks, home working costs rise

With travel restrictions in place, meetings held virtually and staff working from home, Ofqual’s business travel costs plummeted.

Bills for trains, hotels, flights and ferries came in at just £3,596 for the year, compared to the £177,964 racked up the previous year.

Remote working came with its own costs however, with Ofqual spending an average of £76 per person on equipment to “support health and safety requirements” after individual risk assessments for staff.

With an average of 237 full-time equivalent staff throughout the year – up from 216 the previous year – that would equate to a bill of £18,012. But it appears to have paid dividends, with a survey suggesting staff are the most satisfied in the civil service for their home working experience.


6. Interim boss Lebus earning more than predecessors

Ofqual’s new interim chief regulator and CEO Simon Lebus took up his post on 1 January, and the annual report reveals he is on a full-time-equivalent salary of £175,000 and £180,000 a year.

His take-home pay is lower however, as he is “0.8 of whole-time equivalent”, which would typically mean working four days a week.

It marks a significant jump on the £155,000-£160,000 bracket received by his two predecessors Dame Glenys Stacey and Sally Collier.

It is also 4.3 times the median average employee’s salary of £40,576, while Ofqual’s lowest paid earner is on £16,680.

Lebus was chief executive of Cambridge Assessment between 2002 and 2018, with the DfE previously saying he brought a “wealth of experience” to the role.

His role is one of five senior leadership roles on annual salaries of more than £100,000 a year.

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