Private school heads condemn exam marking

Exam hall

The heads of leading independent schools say the exam-marking system for GCSEs and A-levels is “not fit for purpose”.

Chairman Chris King will tell the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference “urgent reform” is needed to improve the reliability of exam grades.

Last year more than 400,000 exam papers were challenged, with more than 77,000 grades being changed.

The joint exam boards body says markers are doing a “fantastic job”.

But Mr King says: “The current situation is untenable.

“We are facing a perfect storm, of both decreasing public confidence and increasing pressure in the system, as the greater emphasis on end-of-year exams creates even more work for examiners over the summer,” he will tell the HMC’s annual conference at St Andrews in Fife.


Mr King, head teacher of Leicester Grammar School, says marking remains a “cottage industry” that is unable to cope with the scale and stresses of the modern exam system.

Pupils can receive “frankly unbelievable marks or grades”, he says, which can mean missing out on university places.

And even if grades are improved on appeal, he says that it can be too late to take up university places, which will have already been allocated to someone else.

Chris King

The most recent figures, from 2014, show that inquiries about exam grades rose year-on-year by 48%, with a 42% increase in the number having their grades changed.

Mr King will say that the numbers of grades being changed is “shocking” and he says that if 6% of examiners are rated as “inadequate” by regulators, that “vast numbers” of marks could be affected.

But he says that there could be an even wider problem, as state schools might lack the funds to pursue challenges against a “byzantine” inquiry system.

The HMC says there needs to be more consistency across different subjects and exam boards and a bigger workforce of better-trained markers.

The independent school heads also want a more transparent process for appeals.

‘Robust processes’

But the Joint Council for Qualifications, representing exam boards, says the grades changed on appeal represent only 1% of entries.

“Our examination system relies upon the 50,000 teachers who each year mark over 15 million papers. They do a fantastic job and receive training from exam boards and ongoing monitoring to ensure high standards are maintained,” said director general Michael Turner.

“Where mistakes do happen, in what is a large and complex system, there are robust processes to correct them as soon as possible and often within days.”

A spokeswoman for the exam regulator Ofqual said that the quality of marking is “generally good”.

“Nevertheless, there is room for improvement. We have already conducted substantial research in this area and we will soon be launching a consultation on proposed changes to the appeals system.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Parents, teachers and young people need to have confidence that the grades they receive are an accurate reflection of a pupil’s performance. That’s why we’re pleased that the regulator is taking steps to improve the quality of marking.”

Education minister says he will make available his marksheets

MUMBAI: Maharashtra school education minister Vinod Tawde said he will make available his Std X and XII mark sheets to all those who are seeking it.

Tawde claims to be a Bachelor of Electronics from the Dnyaneshwar Vidyapeeth, Pune. However, the course is not recognised. He has been accused of falsely claiming to be an engineering graduate in his election affidavit. Tawde has, however, defended his declaration saying he was aware the course was not recognised.

In a press release, Tawde said mark sheets are made available only to the candidate and would not be given even under the Right to Information Act. He, therefore, asked all those seeking his mark sheets to take it directly from him.


Equality Commission reports inequality in NI education

The Equality Commission (EC) says inequality in education has become worse in Northern Ireland since 2007.

In a report, they highlight continuing, persistent underachievement by working-class Protestant children, and wider male underachievement in education.

They also say that “prejudice-based bullying is a persistent problem”.

They say the inequalities “have worsened over time” and have called for them to be addressed as a matter of urgency by government.

The commission’s Draft Statement on Key Inequalities in Education is their assessment of inequalities faced by those in education in Northern Ireland.

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Key findings

  • Males have persistently lower levels of attainment than females throughout primary and post-primary education;
  • Protestants have persistently lower levels of attainment than Catholics at GCSE and A-Level, and that gap has widened in recent years;
  • There are fewer male school leavers entering higher education than females and this has an impact on the make-up of the graduate workforce;
  • Minority ethnic school leavers are more than twice as likely to enter unemployment as their white peers;
  • Many schools are not effectively tackling racist bullying.
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The report also points out that while overall levels of educational attainment are increasing, “many inequalities remain persistent and hard to tackle”.

The EC published a statement on inequality in Northern Ireland in 2007, and the current report measures progress, or lack of it, since then in education.

They commissioned independent experts from Queen’s University to carry out the research.

Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission, said that many children in Northern Ireland continue to experience persistent inequalities because of barriers linked to disability, gender, religion and their socio-economic background.

“We’ve known for a long time that while the education system in Northern Ireland works well for many of our young people, for too long, significant numbers of pupils have struggled to fulfil their potential as a result of that same system,” he said.

“Identifying and highlighting these inequalities is only the first step. These educational fault-lines must be followed by action.”

The report also claimed some students would not study at certain university and college campuses due to their political beliefs.

Researchers interviewed one unionist and one republican student group.

The republican group claimed they would not consider studying at Stranmillis University College and said they did not think Protestants would study at St Mary’s University College.

However, the report admits there is no data to back up that claim.

Stormont education minister John O’Dowd said: “Over the last 10 years, there have been policies introduced which are beginning to show change, but there’s a long tale of underachievement here for many reasons which we need to tackle.

“We need the community to involve themselves, and we need community activists and politicians to stand up and admit there’s something wrong.”

'Perfect storm' warning over teacher shortages

Teacher with child in lab

Teacher shortages and rising pupil numbers will create “a perfect storm” for schools in England, a head teacher has told the Conservative conference.

The crisis would harm children’s education and impair efforts to raise standards, said Allan Foulds of Cheltenham Bournside School.

The president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said the system was near “breaking point”.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said she recognised the challenge ahead.

Mrs Morgan said the government wanted all schools “to be able to recruit high quality teachers who can deliver our vision of educational excellence everywhere, which is why we are focused on attracting more top graduates into the profession”.

She said teaching remained popular as a career, “with the highest numbers of people joining since 2008 and with 3% more people due to start postgraduate teacher training than this time last year”.

“However, we recognise that there is a challenge ahead as the economy continues to strengthen,” she said.

But Mr Foulds said recruitment levels were too low and a combination of factors could push the system “to breaking point”.


There are already too few trainee teachers to meet the numbers needed in government projections, according to ASCL.

A fall in the birth rate in the late 1990s will mean a “steady decline” in the population of 21-year-olds until 2022, it adds, meaning the overall pool of graduates is likely to fall, resulting in fewer trainee teachers.

Allan Foulds

The economic upturn will make it harder to attract would-be teachers, while the number of pupils under the age of 16 is set to rise by some 615,000 to 7.85 million by 2020, says ASCL.

Mr Foulds told the meeting: “There is a real danger that a system which is already under severe strain will reach breaking point and that schools will be forced to drop more courses and increase class sizes further.

“This situation puts in jeopardy the huge progress that has been made by schools and undermines the drive to further raise standards.”

He said schools in the most challenging circumstances and the most disadvantaged children would be worst affected.

“That is the last thing we need in terms of closing the attainment gap,” he said.

“Teachers are the lifeblood of the system.”

Mr Foulds said non-specialists were already being asked to teach core subjects such as maths, English and the sciences, putting government reforms at risk.

“Time is running out, and the government must get to grips with this critical issue,” he said.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Lucy Powell blamed the government for a “chronic shortage” of teachers.

“The Tories’ botched handling of recruitment and doing down of the profession has left schools struggling to cope against falling applications and the highest number of teachers quitting in a decade,” said Ms Powell.

Mrs Morgan said the government had announced a new range of generous bursaries and scholarships for next year, worth up to £30,000 tax-free, “in the core academic subjects that help children reach their potential”.

“Through programmes like School Direct and Teach First, we are helping schools recruit candidates they may have previously struggled to bring in, and our Talented Leaders initiative is also placing outstanding head teachers into struggling schools,” she said.

The Department for Education said its teacher recruitment campaign also played an important role in attracting new people to teaching and encouraging more top graduates to consider training to teach priority subjects such as maths and physics.