Highlights from today’s Education Select Committee: Questions Answered & Ones Still Needing Answers

11th September 2012

More important were the variability of quality in her answers and the questions that MPs left unasked. Below I review some of the highlights.

Some questions asked of Ofqual and the answers

Given that TES Evidence shows Edexcel were asked to move grade boundaries, did you also influence other exam boards? <  Glenys Stacey explained that AQA and OCR were both in line with expectations, WJEC and Edexcel were asked to reconsider or bring back more evidence. Both WJEC and Edexcel then decided to follow the regulator and change their boundaries.

Were the grade boundaries too harsh in June?  No, grades were correct in June but too lenient in January.

Why did it take so long to realise that grades were too lenient in January?  Stacey suggested this was due to the low number of candidates in January (14,000) when compared to the much richer picture presented in June once many more candidates were entered.

Schools have been accused of ‘over-marking’, where is the evidence for this?  After Stacey arguing first that there wasn’t any specific evidence, then saying that English is very subjective and it is very difficult to ever mark, Amanda Spielman then pointed out that schools had predicted and marked in a way that suggested a12% rise on the previous cohort, this seemed highly unlikely. Spielman was adamant that this sort of change cannot happen from one year to the next – even though a number of MPs tried to point out that having years be outside the average in terms of progress was probably quite likely. Spielman then compared children’s exam results to glaciers: they both move slowly over time.

Why has the Welsh Minister come to a different decision to you and asked for re-grading?  Spielman said this was because Wales are in a different political situation where their exam results are not going up every year and “they find this difficult to accept” (Ouch!)

Should Ofqual be investigating itself?  Stacey was very clear that Ofqual are the industry regulator of exam boards. Their job is to regulate what the exam boards are doing and ensure consistency. That is precisely what they did when intervening with Edexcel and WJEC and they did so within very tight rules and expectations. However, if there needs to be a bigger investigation she is happy to be part of it.

Would she release all phone calls, emails, memos between Ofqual, the Department and Special Advisors?  Yes.

Should there be a re-grading? No.


Questions that still need to be asked and/or answered:

If English cannot be accurately graded when there are 14,000 entries does that mean Latin GCSE – which has less than 10,000 entries – also has inaccurate grades?

At one point Glenys Stacey said that achievement jumped remarkably this year in Economics GCSE but they ‘understood why’. Could we know why?  What evidence would you need to see to ‘justify’ a large cohort jump and were the exam boards and schools given the opportunity to present this evidence for the English GCSE?

If grade boundaries are going to change wildly from one cohort to the next, on what should teachers base their predicted grades? (this was a major theme in the Headteacher’s witness session but was unfortunately never addressed with Ofqual)

And finally, why are grades only allowed to rise by 1% between KS2 and KS4?  What is the basis of this assumption?