Exam board OCR faces £175k fine over elementary Romeo and Juliet error in English literature GCSE

Exams watchdog Ofqual has deemed the paper not ‘fit for purpose’ after it confused the Capulets and the Montagues in the Shakespeare play

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Monday 02 July 2018 17:32
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More than 14,000 took the GCSE paper which contained the error last year
More than 14,000 took the GCSE paper which contained the error last year

An exam board is set to be fined £175,000 after it made a mistake in an English literature GCSE paper taken by thousands of students last summer.

Ofqual is proposing to fine OCR tens of thousands of pounds after a question in a GCSE paper on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in May of 2017 mixed up the play’s key family names.

England’s exams regulator has said the paper was not “fit for purpose” after a question wrongly suggested that character Tybalt hated the Capulets, his own family, rather than the Montagues.

The error was in a question that read: “How does Shakespeare present the ways in which Tybalt’s hatred of the Capulets influences the outcome of the play?”

Tybalt is Juliet’s cousin and a Capulet himself, so the question should have referred to his hatred of the Montagues.

The mistake was made during the setting of the paper and was not picked up during any checks.

The watchdog has said the erroneous reference made the question “impossible” to properly answer.

OCR has apologised for the error in the exam, which was taken by more than 14,200 students.

Around 2,700 directly affected candidates were given results last year calculated on their performance answering other GCSE English literature questions.

OCR’s failings are “likely to have a serious adverse impact on public confidence in qualifications” because the error happened during the first year new GCSEs were being taken, Ofqual has said.

It is the first time that the exams regulator has moved towards issuing a fine to an exam board as a result of a question paper error.

Interested parties can appeal against the proposed fine until 16 July but it is understood OCR will not contest the fine.

A spokesperson for OCR said: “We would like to apologise again to students, teachers and parents for the error last year which led to regulatory action.

“We want to reduce the chance of errors like this happening in the future.

“We have revised our system of checks, based on extensive research, with the aim of improving the quality of our question papers.”

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