GCSE and A-Level grading this summer could be as chaotic as last year because quality of marking is still poor, leading school heads warn

School headmaster says major issue of shoddy marking needs to be tackled

A crisis over marking standards threatens this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams, says a leading independent school headmaster.

Dr Tim Hands, who becomes chairman of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference in September - which represents 250 of the country’s top private schools including Eton and Harrow, told a conference in London: “There is an unresolved crisis of instability at the heart of our currency exchange (exam) system.”

His comments coincide with thousands of pupils across the country embark on this summer’s GCSEs and A-levels.

He said that last summer’s fiasco over the marking of GCSE English - where the grade boundaries were changed after one set of pupils had sat the exam - had masked the real crisis facing the exam system.

Research by the HMC had shown that one in four teachers believed at least a quarter of their pupils had been awarded the wrong grade,  In addition, enquiries about remarking paper had soared from 171, 400 in 2010to 204, 600 last year.

It also found that 38 per cent of teachers lacked confidence in the GCSE and 27 per cent in A-levels.

The research findings have been described as “the tip of the iceberg” by Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders - which represents state schools.

Speaking at a conference organised by the Higher Education Policy Institute think-tank,  Dr Hands, who is headmaster of Magdalen College, Oxford, said: “The timetable for improvement is uncertain and unsatisfactory.”

Education Secretary Michael Gove had earlier in the day confirmed that he is committed to bringing in exam reforms in 2015 although he acknowledged the timetable was “challenging”.

The reforms to both exams will usher in a new era of focusing on the one-off end-of-course examination rather than coursework.

However, Dr Hands said that - unless the major issue of shoddy marking was tackled - “the new qualifications will be built on sand”.

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