British exam regulator Ofqual's assertion that teachers were substantially "over-marking" GCSE English exams is now being challenged thanks to findings by the AQA exam board, which confirmed that on the whole, the tests were properly graded. Head teachers say that the AQA's conclusions finding fewer than 5% of examined test papers that needed post-grading adjustments proves that there's nothing behind Ofqual's accusations of improperly graded exams.
The row was sparked by a report released by Ofqual last week which once again defended its decision to change the grade boundaries in the recent round of GCSE English exams, saying that the grades no longer provided an accurate view of students' skills because of overly generous marking by graders. After the release of the report, an Ofqual spokesperson doubled down on the conclusions by saying that student assessment with the old grade boundaries was made much more difficult by the teachers who were awarding unearned high grades.
East London head Kenny Frederick, backed by head teachers' organisations, is challenging the exam regulator to produce evidence to back claims schools have been too generous in marking. Head teachers' leader, Brian Lightman, said that many schools are now saying that their assessment was judged as "exemplary" by moderation – but were then downgraded.
"If schools can't trust feedback from moderators, what can they trust?" said Mr Lightman.
Now with the AQA conclusions in their corner, calls by head teachers for Ofqual to produce evidence of over-marking are growing louder. Although the regulator commissioned a study to determine which schools have been harmed by generous grading, the procedure followed by the contracted consultancy only included interviews with teachers and heads, and didn't actually involve any examinations of the test's answer sheets. It appears that the over-grading assertions are mainly based on statements made by exam boards, although those organizations typically have their own systems in place to make sure that the exam scoring process is fair and consistent.
While AQA identified several exam centers where grades were inflated, this only served to inflame head teachers more. They've since asked Ofqual why it didn't tackle the issue directly with the centers in question rather than by imposing new grade boundaries across the board.
Ms Frederick, backed by the National Association of Head Teachers, is calling on other head teachers to publish their moderation reports – and says that Ofqual's leadership is losing the confidence of schools. She wants schools to produce evidence to their local communities which they say would challenge Ofqual's account of the changes in grades.
Ms Frederick has released the moderation feedback from her own school, George Green's School in Tower Hamlets. Exam board moderators check a random sample of candidates to make sure that assessments are in keeping with expected standards.