Ofqual’s report on GCSE English Results (and some interesting links)

Somewhat late in the day on Friday 31st of August – its tardiness (due originally at 10:30 and delivered at about 4:00) prompting an awful lot of comments on Twitter about missed deadlines and handing in homework late – Ofqual reported on the GCSE English and Language grading row.

Their finding was that there was nothing wrong with the June grading and that they will stand: the January gradings were overly generous. Indeed Glenys Stacey, Chief Executive of Ofqual, in a BBC interview here describes students on January as having had a lucky break. What an appalling way of describing the hard work and effort our students put into their work!

The key findings are reported on the Ofqual News Page here

And for those with the nerve, the full report is here

These are, perhaps, the most salient parts of the report:

“People were particularly concerned about the June grade boundaries. We have found that examiners acted properly, and set the boundaries using their best professional judgement, taking into account all of the evidence available to them. The June boundaries have been properly set, and candidates’ work properly graded.

“The issue is not the June, but the January boundaries. Again, examiners used their best judgement in setting these boundaries, but they had less data and information to work with. Most candidates were not sitting at the time, they were waiting for June, and because they were new qualifications, examiners could not rely so much on direct comparisons with the past. As a result, those grade boundaries were set generously.

“We have thought carefully about what should be done, and spoken with external assessment experts about it. Our job is to maintain standards over time, so grades awarded are comparable from one year to the next.

“We have spoken to exam boards and they have been very responsive. Recognising the strength of feeling, they will be offering early resits for students who sat the June units. We will now go through our analysis and evidence with the representative groups for schools and colleges, so they can see it for themselves. We will also talk with schools, exam boards and assessment experts to see what lessons can be learnt and what can be done better in the future”

What this means is that the June grades will stand: the verdict is that they were the correct grades.

Now, it seems to me that this is not quite the independent review that the NAHT had demanded and there are going to be an awful lot of people who took exams in January who are now going to feel very undermined and undervalued, even though Ofqual have very generously said that they will not be downgrading the results from January.

Ofqual are saying that only 7% of candidates submitted in January and therefore there were too few candidates from which to properly grade and level work. Yet they still did it. It seems to me that if 7% is too few to accurately grade a qualification, it ought not to be offered.

Perhaps a mimimum uptake should have been put in place and unless sufficient numbers of students are submitted, the entry is denied. If one candidate alone had attempted to submit their GCSE in January, would they have been permitted to? Is it an inalienable right to take a qualification in circumstances where there is no way of accurately grading you?

7% of the GCSE entrants is also, however, quite a large number. One wonders as to the mechanics of this: when does the figure become sufficient? At 10% entry? At 15%? At 25%? I must confess I have not read the full report and those questions may be answered within it…

Ofqual says also that

Understandably, schools were over-reliant on the January 2012 boundaries to set expectations as there was little other information available to them.

Again, certainly for OCR this is not entirely accurate: raw mark grade boundaries are available for 3 cycles prior to June 2012 and they are all broadly consistent with the January 2012 grade boundaries. This blog post includes the grade boundaries and their changes from January 2011 to June 2012.

However, if we accept the point that there were insufficient submissions in January 2012 to accurately assess grades, there must have been even fewer in the first two cycles in 2011 when the course was only 6 and 12 months old respectively.

A big question that could be asked is: to what extent did examination boards warn centres that the January 2012 (or previous) raw mark grade boundaries could not and should not be relied upon? Personally, I know that I telephoned the exam board for clarification on grade boundaries and – in a telephone call I do specifically recall, followed up by an email link to the raw score grade boundaries – was told to refer to the Jan and June 2011 grade boundaries.

Also, are we to accept that Ofqual and the examination boards had no idea that this was likely to be a problem? Reports in the media suggest that this situation was anticipated three years before.

Huffington Post

TES

What was done to warn and alert centres? According to Ofqual’s news page

Exam boards will review the advice and guidance they give to schools about GCSE English including its structure, how grade boundaries are set and how they should be used.

which to me suggests and implies that the advice previously given has been minimal and / or unreliable and / or misleading.

So, putting ourselves into the position of a young man who has believed for two years that he has been working at a C grade only to be rewarded with a D, what have Ofqual offered him?

1. the opportunity to withdraw an application for remarking at no cost; and

2. the chance to resit his examinations in November 2012.

If this hypothetical young man has lost a place on a sixth form course or an apprenticeship or a college placement or employment, one wonders what sort of help this two-month early retake will be if his place has already been filled by someone else.

I also wonder what the sixth form schools and colleges’ stance is: are they adhering strictly to their original offers that expected a C-grade in English? Or are they using a wider discretion to admit students who have a D-grade?

Whilst Ofqual’s report has clarified some issues, I think there are still a range of concerns and questions that still need to be addressed and I wonder how long it will be before parents and / or unions attempt to make a legal challenge.

A response from ASCL is repeated on TES here and Steven Twigg, Shadow Education Secretary here. This is The Independent’s report. And Geoff Barton blogged about the situation on his always thoughtful blog here.

It is now looking as if a Parliamentary Inquiry is likely, according to The Guardian which claims it

looks all but inevitable

that Michael Gove will be summoned to give evidence.

This is, despite the headline, a very interesting article in the second half, showing an examiner’s point of view.

Somewhat uninspiringly – though perhaps predictably – out learned Prime Minister’s response is to “brush aside” the concerns of parents, students and teachers

saying he planned further moves to reverse ‘dumbing down’ and that he refused to ‘cave in’ to teaching unions who want to ‘pretend standards are rising each year’.

He added: ‘ “All must have prizes” is not just patronising, it is cruel – and with us it is over.’

Mr Cameron said there would be ‘no more excuses for failure in schools; no more soft exams and soft discipline’.

How terribly disappointing to our Prime Minister so completely failing to see the depth of concern and anger that this has generated, failing to understand the actual issue and continuing to undermine a profession which has nothing but the best interests of children at its heart.

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2 thoughts on “Ofqual’s report on GCSE English Results (and some interesting links)

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