Heads want ‘injustices’ of bad examiners redressed

The exams regulator has acknowledged that 6 per cent of examiners are 'inadequate', according to Mr Harman

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The Independent Online

Almost a million GCSE and A-level exam scripts will have been wrongly marked this summer, the leader of Britain’s top independent schools will warn today.

Richard Harman, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference which represents 250 of the UK’s leading independent schools, will tell an assembly of members today that the teaching profession “needs to jump up and down demanding higher standards.”

Mr Harman will tell his audience in South Wales that the exams regulator, Ofqual, has already acknowledged that 6 per cent of examiners are “inadequate”, which “translates to 950,000 scripts inadequately marked”.

The marking blunders mean tens of thousands of GCSE and A-level students are awarded the wrong grades, according to heads.

Mr Harman’s comments follow a survey by Ofqual that revealed a growing lack of confidence in the exams system, with half the country’s heads believing some A-level students had been given the wrong grades. The figure rose to 79 per cent with GCSEs.

Last Friday, Ofqual announced plans for a radical shake-up of A-level foreign languages after an investigation by the watchdog concluded the brightest candidates were being denied A* grades by inconsistent marking and poorly designed exams.

Some spectacular examples of mismarking have come to light in the past year. One pupil at Latymer School in Edmonton, north London, a state grammar school, was awarded a D grade in French which, on appeal, was changed to an A grade. At Brighton College, a leading independent school, one A-level student was upgraded from a U grade to an A grade in one paper.

State school heads have warned that the cost of appealing grades they suspect are wrong often puts them off doing so. By contrast, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, says it has almost become “first nature” for private schools to appeal.

Mr Harman will demand a four-point charter to be agreed with the exam boards. This should include clear measures to “redress the injustices perpetrated by inadequate markers”. Another key demand is for Ofqual to monitor the boards more closely to spot when marking patterns across a subject show unexplained variations.

The watchdog, he will suggest, should “provide air traffic control not air crash investigation” in averting the problem before it happens.

But Mr Harman acknowledges that Ofqual has taken steps to improve the system, particularly in modern foreign languages, where it has just announced moves to improve marking at top grade level.

Glenys Stacey, the chief regulator, said: “Exam boards need to make sure that assessments are designed in the right way to differentiate fairly between students. It is vital students, teachers and other users of these qualifications can have confidence in them and know the results are fair.”

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