Exams watchdog steps in over Facebook protest

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The Independent Online

The exams watchdog has stepped into the row over an A-level biology paper which led to thousands of students launching a Facebook protest against the exam board AQA for setting questions they felt were unfair.

Ofqual, the newly created independent exams regulator, has ordered the exam board to submit a report on the controversy. The move came as the number of students joining a Facebook page in protest against the paper – which they claim failed to stick to the syllabus – grew to more than 10,000. The exam was sat by just under 20,000 students on Monday.

Biology teachers have also joined in the complaints against the exam board. One pupil from Prudhoe High school in Northumberland said his teacher had sent a formal letter of complaint to AQA about the content of the questions.

Another, from a college in Leicester, said his head of biology had sat the exam under the universal mark scheme “and could barely reach a B grade”.

However, Dan Quinton, head of biology at Caterham school and a member of the Society of Biology said: “AQA did what they said they were going to do. A-levels are hard work and so they should be.

“There was a lot more data handling this year, and it was harder in that it required more knowledge and relied less on recall. Previously you could get pupils who were less able through simply because you could cram their heads with facts. My only worry would be if the other exam boards didn’t do this and were therefore easier.”

Ofqual said it wanted evidence from the AQA of “the actions they are taking in response to the concerns raised”.

Protests were also lodged yesterday about a second biology A-level paper, set by the a different exam board called OCR. As with the other exam, pupils said the OCR paper had failed to ask them enough questions about the syllabus they had studied, and therefore could have jeopardised their places on competitive university courses such as medicine and dentistry. OCR said it was not aware of any problems with the paper.

AQA issued a statement saying it was “aware of the concern amongst some candidates for this examination that the exam has not allowed them to fully demonstrate their understanding and abilities.”

It added: “We will take account of these concerns when marking the exam. The concerns will also be considered at the awarding meeting where we make final decisions regarding the award of grades.”

The protesting pupils interpreted this as an admission that there had been something wrong with the paper – but said they should be given a chance to re-sit the test with another paper rather than rely on sympathetic marking.