Exam review changes draw criticism

Ofqual has attracted widespread criticism from the teaching profession after the announcement of new regulations to the system of reviews and appeals governing examination results which ignore many of the recommendations made by school bodies.

The Regulator launched a consultation last December aimed at “improving transparency and fairness” in the system.

The move came on the back of a significant increase in appeals against exam grades, a situation that the then Chief Regulator Glenys Stacey said “reflects teachers’ increasing lack of confidence in marking and the current appeals system”.

SCHOOLS NorthEast has led a robust representation on behalf of secondary schools in the region following an outcry by Heads over the performance of examination boards this summer.

While the profession was seeking changes from Ofqual to instil confidence, the new measures published yesterday fall far short of what is required.

ASCL, NAHT and HMC were all vocal in their dismay at the Regulator’s future proposals.

Iain Veitch, Vice-Chairman of SCHOOLS NorthEast and Head Teacher at Park View School in Chester-le-Street, said: “You cannot help but feel this was a done deal before the consultation even started. What is alarming is that Ofqual has ignored its own evidence on the quality of marking and moderation which showed the disparities between different examiners. It has done little to address the overall quality of marking which is at the heart of the issue.”

Mike Parker, Director of SCHOOLS NorthEast, echoed concerns that the results of the consultation did not reflect the concerns of school leaders and that Ofqual still has a long way to go to restore confidence.

Mr Parker said: “Regrettably, Ofqual has done little to disavow education leaders of the notion that its exam review and appeals consultation was purely an exercise in preventing schools from questioning grade outcomes. The approach has focused on the symptoms of a failing system and not addressed its root cause.

“In our submission, SCHOOLS NorthEast proposed a range of proactive steps to professionalise the exams marking process which would have achieved the twin aims of increasing transparency and rebuilding confidence.

“For example, initiatives such as a fully digitalised reviews process would have enabled all schools to review GCSE papers in real time prior to deciding whether or not to request a review. It is time to haul the exam system out of the dark ages and use the technology that most other sectors use as standard.”

There are a number of areas that Ofqual has addressed which are a step in the right direction. SCHOOLS NorthEast welcomes the following:

  • Establishing a framework for exam board processes and deadlines
  • Emphasis on exam boards to do more to train reviewers and to publish details of said training
  • Exam boards explicitly required to monitor reviewers
  • Tighter control on performance measures for exam boards re: timescales for each process on exams appeals
  • A common approach for setting grade boundaries across exam boards
  • Specific requirements for exam boards to train and monitor markers & moderators (given this is currently part of the Code we want to see detail on how this will be improved to instil confidence)
  • Greater transparency, including statutory guidance on how reviewers should determine whether or not a marking error has been made

Ofqual now plans to consult further on whether or not to require exam boards to make marked GCSE scripts available to centres ahead of decision-making on reviews. It has also hinted at the possibility exam boards will digitalise the reviews process in the future, saying: “Some exam boards have told us they will have to make significant changes to their IT systems before they could return marked GCSE scripts in any volume. Whilst we believe it is important that centres can see marked scripts before they decide whether to ask for a review, we do not want to introduce unnecessary risk into the system, particularly at a time of wider reform.”

Here’s a list of the key decisions and when they will take effect:

For summer 2016 Ofqual will:

  • Allow exam boards to accept requests for reviews and appeals directly from learners
  • Those which don’t accept requests directly from learners, must ensure that learners can appeal the centre’s decision that the request should not be made
  • Explicit requirements for exam boards to train reviewers (including those undertaking reviews of moderation) prior to undertaking reviews and for details of that training to be published
  • Explicit requirements for exam boards to monitor reviewers (including those undertaking reviews of moderation) and for any outcomes of that monitoring to be published
  • Require exam boards to return to centres marked AS and A level scripts if centres want to see them (as now) and allow exam boards to return marked GCSE scripts to centres, if they want to see them before deciding whether to ask for a review
  • Require Marking and Moderation Errors to be corrected, but not otherwise allow marks to be changed
  • Require exam boards to provide, when requested, reasons (which could be categories of decision types) for review decisions
  • Require exam boards to provide reasons for decisions following a review of moderation
  • Require exam boards to publish deadlines for submitting a review or appeal (we know these have already been published by the exam boards for 2016 and we see no reason why these must be changed).
  • Set a framework for key dates related to reviews and appeals (from 2017)
  • Require exam boards to set their own timescales for each process and publish their performance against those timescales
  • Require exam boards to consider appeals on the basis that it has not applied its procedures consistently or that procedures were not followed properly and fairly
  • Continue to require exam boards to ensure that centres have arrangements in place for learners to request a review of centre marking
  • Require exam boards to use a common approach to setting grade boundaries for GCSEs, AS and A levels

Subject to further consultation, Ofqual also proposes to do the following for summer 2016:

  • Put in place specific requirements for exam boards to train and monitor markers and moderators (such requirements are currently imposed through the Code of Conduct)
  • Publish statutory guidance on how reviewers should determine whether a Marking Error has been made
  • Require exam boards to pilot the provision of the extended ground (that there had been a Marking Error) for appeal in a small number of subjects in 2016

For summer 2017 Ofqual will:

  • Permit reviews of centre-based marking to be conducted by either centres or a third party.
  • Require that reviews of centre-marked assessments are done by assessors with no personal interest in the review.
  • Set a framework for minimum timescales related to deadlines for requests for reviews and appeals
  • Consider extending the grounds for appeal, to include that there had been a Marking Error, to other qualifications, subject to the analysis of the outcomes of the pilot.

Ofqual will also consult further on when they should implement the requirement that exam boards must make marked GCSE scripts available to centres in time for them to consider whether to ask for a review.

PLEASE provide us with your views on the above decisions. SCHOOLS NorthEast will continue to represent schools in the region on this matter. Your feedback and insight is essential in ensuring there is a strong North East voice on these issues and the further consultation the Regulator is undertaking.

 

REACTION:

ASCL – http://www.ascl.org.uk/news-and-views/news_news-detail.exam-marks-must-be-right-first-time.html

NAHT & HMC – http://www.naht.org.uk/welcome/news-and-media/key-topics/assessment/naht-and-hmc-regret-announcements-by-ofqual/

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