So we hear from Ofqual today that in future it will be more difficult for young people to have their marks changed on appeal after sitting an exam. It’s one of the worst examples I’ve ever seen of an organisation moving to protect its interests at the expense of the purpose for which it was set up. Ofqual was established to ensure the fairness and consistency of the exam system. In today’s decision, it shows itself to be simply a protector of the interests of the examination boards.
At a point in time where a student’s ability to show resilience by re-sitting examinations and demonstrating improvement has not only been shut down by the Secretary of State, but positively hailed as a triumph, Ofqual put the boot in to say that even if you have been unfairly marked, there will be little course for redress. It’s a pincer movement which removes hope from the lives of young people who are increasingly being written off by a flawed and failing system.
As long ago as 1996, Wilmot et al showed in their research that marking even from the same examiner was inconsistent and flawed. Ofqual claim that if the marking criteria has been applied more harshly by one examiner than another, then the student should not have their mark altered. Under this rule, my son’s mark for an English Literature paper would have been left as a D. Yet when we appealed it, it went up to a B, giving him an A overall. It should not be even possible for the marking criteria to be so vague that one marker can see a D where another sees a B. Yet as any of us who have ever attended a standardisation meeting will attest, it is. This is not a fault of the student or their teacher, but of the examination criteria. Yet, it would seem that Ofqual are more interested in protecting this flawed system than ensuring that it works. Had these new rules applied, he would have missed out on his place at Oxford, where he went on to thrive and achieve a high 2:1. How many students under this new ruling will find their lives ruined as a result?
None of this even takes into consideration the extreme range of capability and experience of the examiners themselves. Last year, the major examination boards were recruiting markers who were not teachers and had no experience of the syllabus at all. Some were undergraduates. A chief examiner told me that she had been sent papers to mark on RESULTS DAY as a result of examiner shortages and that the students had been sent preliminary results instead based on predicted grades. When the quality of markers is as disparate as this and when the exam boards are so desperate for markers that they are offering already overloaded examiners double money plus bonuses for taking on extra, it is no wonder that mistakes are made. Yet instead of tackling this problem head on, Ofqual chooses instead to throw a shabby blanket over the mess and to make it harder for anyone to lift it up and see what’s underneath.
It has long been the principle of remarking that papers will be viewed by someone with experience within the board. This means that even if your paper was marked by a hungover second year student, in the event of a remark, it would be seen by a team leader with many years of experience of marking. This right has now been removed under the assumption that all examiners are equal. They are not.
Let’s not forget that the GCSE is in an ongoing state of flux, that AS levels are newly decapitated from A Level and no-one knows how that’s all going to work in terms of marking. Even the most seasoned examiners are in new territory so this decision seems even more insane. Surely in a period of unprecedented change across the whole system, it’s better to keep an open mind on re-marks?
If we had a strong body of examiners, well trained, well paid and who were given time to mark with careful consideration, things might be different. But we don’t. If we had a balance between examination and coursework, it might be different, but that’s gone. If we built in opportunities for children to resit exams (as many times as it takes to get to the standard expected – isn’t that the very definition of resilience?), it might be different. But we took that away too.
If there was ever an example of how rotten our reliance on exams has become, it is this. Last year saw the highest number of requests for remarks ever. A student was more likely to have their mark altered if they got their request in early – within a few weeks, the boards were moving to protect themselves. And now they’re shielded from all responsibility. It is a sham. And a whole generation of young people will pay the price for the rest of their lives.