UK: Schools, Universities Manipulating Grades to Look Better

Schools have been manipulating the GCSE testing system in order to improve their performance on Britain’s school league tables, a government investigation suggests. According to Graeme Paton of The Daily Telegraph, some schools are having their students take GCSEs in English and math numerous times, but only officially record the best result to make their performance look better than it is.

In some cases, students are taking their exams years before they’re actually supposed to and then are subsequently forced to retake the exams if their initial scores aren’t high enough. However, according to findings by the Department for Education, that isn’t even the most extreme step some schools take to inflate their league table positions.

Among the most egregious practices is having pupils take both the regular and International GCSEs to maximize the chance of a good grade. In the last 12 months, the number of students who have taken both versions rose by 1000%.

In 2012, some 5,700 pupils took GCSE and IGCSE exams in maths at the same time – up from just 600 a year earlier.

For English, numbers soared from 300 to 4,000 over the same period. The DfE report warned that “continually sitting examinations” was harmful to children’s education and had serious “consequences for pupils’ progression to A-level and beyond”.

In an alarming conclusion, it emerged that 400 pupils took maths exams at least seven times in 2012 – a four-fold rise in 12 months.

In a reaction to the findings, the DfE has announced that it will change the method it uses to make up the league table to minimize the abuse.

If the DfE is serious about stamping out result inflation of such sort, then the recent findings of Professor John Thornes of Birmingham University should raise alarms as well. According to Thornes, universities are also not immune from game-playing, with some bending the rules to increase the number of first class degrees they grant each year.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the most recent data shows that the number of students graduating with top marks increased by 16% over the past year. Over the last 13 years, the number of First degrees tripled.

According to HESA, 17 per cent of students – 61,605 – gained a first last summer. This was up from 15.5 per cent – 53,215 – a year earlier. Numbers have tripled since 1999 when just 20,700 graduates were awarded first-class degrees.

The increase in top degrees has been partially put down to a sharp rise in the undergraduate population, although the latest figures show that the hike in firsts has dramatically outstripped overall student numbers.