80% of head teachers losing confidence in GCSEs as lack of trust in grades is revealed

Ofqual survey shows two out of five heads and teachers believing at least a quarter of pupils have been given wrong marks

Education Editor

A widespread lack of confidence in the GCSE exam has been revealed in a survey of heads and teachers published by exams regulator Ofqual.

In all, 80 per cent of heads say they have less confidence in the GCSE than a year ago - largely as a result of the marking fiasco which saw the grade boundary in English for a C grade raised in between January and June sitting.

The survey also reveals a remarkable lack of trust in the accuracy of both GCSE grades and A-level grades awarded to pupils - with almost two out of five heads and teachers believing at least one in four pupils have been given the wrong marks. That would mean 150,000 pupils every year ending up with the wrong grades.

Ofqual’s report says the percentage of heads and teachers feeling confident about GCSEs was around 30 per cent lower than A-levels.

“The controversy (over the marking of English) also had a significant impact on the public’s confidence (in GCSEs),” the survey adds. “Two-fifths of the public and parents who had heard of the controversy reported that their confidence in the system had been affected “a lot” or “a fair amount” by the saga.

Lack of confidence had also spread to employers with 55 per cent of those in charge of small businesses also expressing reservations about the exam.

The Department for Education said the lack of confidence bolstered the need for reforming the exam - Education Secretary Michael Gove is planning to scrap the current modular approach to GCSE and most coursework. and go back to end-of-course exams.  The new-style GCSEs will be introduced into the classroom in September 2015.

“The Secretary of State warned when he came to office that the GCSE system had serious weaknesses and needed fundamental reform,” said a spokesman for the Department for Education. “The report shows these concerns are widespread.

“The changes we are making will restore confidence in GCSEs.”

However, many headteachers’ leaders argue that confidence has drained as a result of the exam boards being pressurised by Ofqual to change the boundaries and keep the results broadly the same as last year.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The drop in confidence is about the way the exams were marked not about modular exams or GCSE as a qualification.

“In no way does it justify claims by policy makers that GCSE is not fit for purpose.”

Glenys Stacey, Ofqual’s chief regulator, said: “We want to see confidence in GCSEs return as they become more robust and assessment is seen to be, and is, fair and accurate.  I think there is an appetite for change and improvement.”

By contrast, the survey has shown teachers’ confidence in A-levels growing.  Last year, 84 per cent of heads and 86 per cent of teachers said they were confident in the system.

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