Cries from the classroom: “It’s not fair!” Responses to the Ofqual report

2nd November 2012

It’s hard to know you are marking correctly and delivering the course in the most effective way with a new specification. During my time as an English teacher, I was part of a department that took the following steps:

  • We spent hours moderating controlled assessment using the exemplar work provided by the exam board as a benchmark. Our marks were not adjusted by AQA;
  • We shared exemplars with students to help them understand the assessment criteria;
  • We explained emphatically to students that mark boundaries could go down as well as up;
  • If students had underperformed in their controlled assessment we gave them one more opportunity to undertake another piece with a new title, as suggested by AQA, in their own time;
  • We decided that ethically, it would be better to wait for students to take the exam at the end of the course to avoid a ‘resit culture’ that adds extra pressure during the June exam series. We were not one of the schools that tried to ‘game’ the system, although I am not condemning their actions either.

All of the above are approved practices from AQA, yet some of our students still missed out. Had we earlier indication that there were issues with assessment we would have taken the necessary steps to ensure students’ success whilst still maintaining our professional integrity.

Glenys Stacey painted a contradictory picture this morning: she stated ‘we understand and value teacher’s professional judgement’ yet discussed how league tables encourage teachers to be over generous in their marking. Her photo is also on the front page of The Independent alongside the headline: ‘Shocked Ofqual accuses teachers of cheating’. Ofqual is deploying a classic diversion strategy: just in the way that students are quick to cry ‘It’s not fair’, they are also keen to blame others for their own misdemeanours first.

So where do we go next? The logical argument is that if there has been overmarking of internal assessment then all assessment should be external. However, Ofqual has just admitted not monitoring exam boards enough so how can we trust either Ofqual or exam boards to get it right? The HMC has warned that unless there is improved consistency in exam marking, the EBacc reforms are ‘built on sand’, yet the EBacc is about to deliver all assessment into the hands of exam boards. I was shocked at how last minute and contradictory the information was when I attended briefings on the new GCSE specification in 2009, yet I can only see this getting worse if we rush into a new qualification without addressing consistency in exam board marking.

I have lost count of the times I have resolved situations with students in the fairest way possible. I have also had to explain to students that life isn’t always fair. Part of student’s journey into adulthood is dealing with these situations in an appropriate way, but in this case, they’re left with few options because their fate has already been sealed as they miss out on college places due to grades. Unfortunately, for these students and for the teachers that taught them, they will have had that unfortunate lesson delivered to them by the organisation that was supposed to ensure consistency and standards in assessment: Ofqual. And for those students who missed out, that simply isn’t acceptable.

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