Exam system 'losing public confidence' as hundreds miss out on university places over poor marking

Christopher King, HMC chairman, warns students are missing their first choices because their A-level marks were wrong

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The Independent Online

Shoddy marking standards mean that hundreds of teenagers are wrongly missing out on places at their first-choice universities and eroding public confidence in Britain’s exam system, the leader of Britain’s top independent schools will warn.

Christopher King, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) - which represents 275 of the country's best known independent schools, will reveal that hundreds of students have lost places at their first choice universities - simply because their A-level marks were wrong.

"We know of cases where, after re-remarks have come through, their pupils are confirmed as having exceeded the offer of their first choice university yet have nevertheless been told - inexplicably - that they no longer have a place for that year," he will tell his annual conference at St Andrews University in Scotland.

Mr King, who is headmaster of Leicester Grammar School, will add:  "So they have been let down twice: first by inaccurate marking and second by a university unwilling to behave honourably.  We all know this can have a terrible impact of the young people concerned."

Mr King will reveal that 77,450 A-level and GCSE papers were regraded last year - a 42 per cent rise on the figures for the previous year.

He will say the education system is facing a "perfect storm of both decreasing public confidence and increasing pressure in the system as the greater emphasis on end-of-term exams creates even more work for examiners over the summer".

"Under my chairmanship, we will not rest until the UK has the quality assured exam system its young people deserve," he will add.

"In schools across the UK this summer pupils have yet again been given frankly unbelievable marks or grades which catapults them into clearing or, worse, into limbo as their university of choice hangs on to them while deciding what to do," he will say.

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Exam board representatives and senior headteachers have now set up a task force aimied at modernising the exam system (Getty)

Mr King will claim this crisis is as a result of an inadequate examiner workforce and a "byzantine" appeals process which is too cumbersom and costly for many state schools to be able to afford.

"The fact is the exams workforce has been operating as a 'cottage industry' which - despite some modernisation - now needs to reinvent itself for the 21st century," he will argue.

He will reveal that exam board representatives and senior headteachers have now set up a task force aimied at modernising the exam system.

Under my chairmanship, we will not rest until the UK has the quality assured exam system its young people deserve

Christopher King, chairman of the HMC

He will call for "a larger and more skilled marker workforce" which is better trained and reasonably paid and an appeals system which is easy to understand.

Meanwhile, he will urge critics of the independent school system to "stop indulging in toffism and out of date preconceptions about the nature of our schools -  above all, stop believing that you can make the weak strong by making the strong weaker".  

"Instead of carping, accept we want to make a positive contribution, too," he will say.  "Decision makers:  we want to engage with you."

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He will argue that it is wrong to accudse the independent sector of elitism and creating a two-tier system which is holding back the state sector.

"It is clearly absurd to blame the (independent) sector which educates seven per cent of the school population for the ills and the educational experience of the other 93 per cent," he will say.

"This seems to me to be a distraction tactic steering the debate away from serious and long term issues such as funding crises and teacher shortages.

"If we were in our ivory towers, we climbed down long ago."

He will criticise the use of the term in government circles of "independent state schools" to describe the new breed of academies that have been created, describing it as "an oxymoron".

"How is a state academy truly independent when, through Ofsted and performance tables, the Government can set most of the curriculum," he will ask.  He will say he is quite relaxed about his school registering nil per cent in the number of pupils achieving five A* to C grades at GCSE including maths and English simply because it has decided to offer its pupils the more traditional IGCSE instead.

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