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Calls to overhaul exam marking system

Ofqual, the exam regulator, has revealed that this year saw the highest ever level of exam results being changed at GCSE and A-Level following challenges to the original grade.

Over 90,000 GCSE and A-Level exam grades were changed, with results going up in the overwhelming majority of cases, following more than 572,000 queries over the original marks. The 90,000 figure represents an increase of 17% in comparison with last year and is additionally the highest on record.

Tellingly, the majority of challenges to marking seem to have come from the independent sector.

As to a breakdown; 62,000 GCSE grades were changed, along with 28,500 at A-Level.

Head teachers are concerned that these figures are representative of a broader problem concerning examination marking standards, with Brian Lightman, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union stating: ‘We have been warned for some time that the marking system is under huge pressure and fear that the increase in re-grades strongly suggests it is creaking under the strain’.

The costs implications are also significant. Exam boards only refund the re-marking fee if a grade is changed, but if it is not, they charge between £20 and £60 per paper.

With over 480,000 grades not being changed this year, this represents millions of pounds in expenses, a figure that would be seen as avoidable if greater confidence existed in marking standards.

The situation as it stands is perhaps symptomatic of a broader malaise within UK education, namely lack of funding. Not being able to recruit and instruct individuals of the required standard due to financial and time constraints risks producing a marking system in which pupils, parents, teachers and schools have limited confidence.

A more thorough degree of oversight is likely to be required, both as to how people who mark scripts are appointed and how their own marking is evaluated, if we are to avoid a negative shift in people’s attitudes to the exam marking system as a whole.

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