Watchdog holds inquiry into exams fiasco

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The Independent Online

An inquiry was launched yesterday into how Britain's biggest exam board failed fully to mark more than 600 GCSE, A-level and AS-level papers this summer.

The oversight by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), which was caused by the use of an electronic marking system, has left several candidates with lower grades that they should have received – and could potentially have ruined some students' chances of being awarded a university place at a time when competition is fiercer than ever.

Announcing the inquiry, Isabel Nisbet, the chief executive of Ofqual, the exam standards watchdog, described the debacle as "a very serious matter". She added that the inquiry would "focus on what went wrong and why it was not spotted sooner".

AQA said its enquiries showed that 150 A-level, 190 GCSE and 290 AS-level papers had not been fully marked. "This meant that some students received lower subject grades than they should have," the exam board said in a statement. "There was also a small number of students whose marks were changed, but this did not affect their overall grades."

A wide number of subject areas were affected by the failure to mark the scripts properly. "We are extremely sorry for any distress caused as a result of the original incomplete mark and are reviewing our processes to ensure there is no repeat of this error," said Andrew Hall, chief executive of AQA.

"Errors of this type are extremely rare but when they are identified it is our policy to ensure they are rectified and candidates are credited with the correct results," he added.

The online system has been in use for several years now but had not been used on such a large scale before this year. A spokesman for AQA said: "All answer booklets were scanned in full, but when returned to us some questions were left unmarked. We regret that our processes did not identify this problem at the time. That is why we are investigating and why Ofqual has launched its own inquiry."

Ofqual said the findings of its inquiry would be made public and that its terms of reference would be published shortly. The AQA said it had marked some 3.5 million scripts electronically this summer.

* A warning will be delivered today that the Government's plans to give schools a "pupil premium" to take in more disadvantaged children could backfire. The scheme, which represents the Liberal Democrats' main gain in the coalition agreement on education, could harm disadvantaged young people if it takes money away from maintenance allowances which help 16 to 19-year-olds remain in full-time education, warns the education charity CfBT.