Tag Archives: Appeals

GCSE English Fiasco… some personal thoughts and developments

There are time when as a teacher your head spins. Times when you feel as if you’re paddling frantically just to keep still. On some occasions, however hard you paddle, however frenetically your feet beat against the current, you feel yourself slowly slipping backwards and the sound of the weir or waterfall at your back just gets louder and LOUDER and more and more insistent.

And these are the rhythms and ebb and flow of the school year. We all know the feeling – unless it’s just my utter inadequacy I’m confessing here! We could look at:

• the first weeks of September with a hundred new names to learn, results to analyse, new class dynamics to negotiate, new traumas to heal between students…

• those days when, unthinkingly, all your classes are handing in long homeworks at the same time – which I know careful planning and forethought could avoid!

• those lovely weeks when parents evenings pile up on options evenings and pathways evenings and twilight Inset…

• moderation and OMRs and estimated grades form to be completed. In triplicate.

• the end of the year when reports and grades and key stage levels and target grades and end of year exam results all need to be compiled.

This year, however, the GCSE English debacle has spun my head so far I feel like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

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One of the best analogies I have heard about the “situation” – I’m struggling to find some way to describe any of this without using words like fiasco, farce or blunder or, to be frank, the phrase cock up – it would be almost funny this level of incompetence if 1000s of kids’ futures weren’t at stake! – was from Radio 4. Imagine an orchard full of lovely ripe apples. Imagine you and your friends go to pick apples on Saturday but find that another group of kids broke in the night before and have already taken most of those bright juicy sweet apples. There are therefore less for you and your friends who waited and most of you are having to content yourselves with the dry shrivelled old windfall apples.

However, if we stick with the analogy, if we were in Wales – and only in Wales – the Government will refresh those windfall apples for you. They will be plumped up, re-juiced, rejuvenated, buffed and bronzed. Which can only make the wizened old things that the English kids are left with as bitter as a crab apple!

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Now, I applaud Leighton Andrews for his stance ordering WJEC to regrade it’s GCSEs for Welsh students. Thousands of Welsh teenagers will now get the grade they deserve. Brilliant!

But this does not help my head! Not at all!

Children with the same raw scores in every piece of Controlled Assessment and in their examination – possibly living less than a mile apart – possibly best friends – possibly even related – on opposite sides of the Welsh border – get different grades?!

Was this what was envisaged when powers were devolved to Wales? Seriously?

Predictably, our Mr Gove has decried Leighton Andrews decision. Why? Because it points the brightest most penetrating spotlight possible on his own unfair refusal to do the same? Oh no, silly me. Because it was “irresponsible”.

Anecdotally, it seems this year that a number of post-16 providers may have been very understanding and accepted students with a lower-than-expected GCSE grade. I stress that I have absolutely no evidence beyond anecdote to support this. Some research into this might be useful…

But this, in my view, will not be the crucial year for these kids. Fast forward 18 months or so. This debacle will have inevitably slid from people’s consciousness. This same cohort of kids will be applying for University or employment. Their CVs will still have a D grade in English on. Universities and prospective employers will still be looking for a C grade as evidence of sufficient literacy to access their course or to carry out their responsibilities. And whatever leeway may have been offered this year is very unlikely to be applied then.

Geoff Barton and the ASCL seem to me to be doing a grand job on two fronts:

• both Geoff Barton and Brian Lightman are keeping this in the public eye, maintaining awareness and keeping up the pressure; and

• looking at the ASCL’s website, there are some genuinely imaginative and creative proposals being put forward to remedy the injustice.

Pushing for a relaxation of the 20th of September deadline for EARs – Enquiries About Results – seems to me to be a sensible move. This is a complicated situation for Heads, Senior Leadership Teams and teachers to ponder, let alone parents. There are, according to the JCQ rules, three routes to consider:

1) a clerical recheck in case there are errors in adding up or pages in the scripts that didn’t get read. Save for exceptional individuals, this is unlikely to help anyone. I know the fiasco has dented trust in exams but I am broadly confident that they can add up. It’s what they do to those marks I’m worried about!

2) a remarking of the examination script. A number of parents have already requested this and – in my school at least – without any changes being made. There is nothing in the results to suggest that the marking was incorrect. Again, it is the manipulation of those marks to create a UMS score and a grade that’s the problem;

3) an appeal against the moderation of Controlled Assessments. Now if a school’s CA marks have been reduced – just to compound the problems with the grading – this seems sensible. It might raises the couple of marks needed to cross the grade threshold. But my school – along with most schools because, let’s face it, teachers can mark! It’s our job! We do it well! – has had no change. We are within tolerance. To appeal against moderation which has accepted our marks is to appeal against our own marking! Who knows what effect that might have on the size of sample requested in future years and the relationship we’ve spent a decade building up with our Examination Board! And it seems dishonest.

ASCL are apparently insisting that boards relax the rules about appealing CA marking. Their argument seems to me that teachers were led to believe that a certain mark represented a grade and now that the boundaries are altered our marking has been invalidated. But, I don’t mark with grades. I mark with numbers. Demonstration of a certain set of skills equates to a number. If Ofqual permit marks to be changed to reflect a fair grade by divorcing them from the skills criteria, I’ll eat my hat!

If this is the fudge that lets kids get the grade they deserve whilst allowing Gove to remain firm about regrading, then so be it. It’s a practical solution. But it’s not marking. It would be – and there is no other word for it – a fudge and indicative of the chaos Gove and Ofqual have created.

I do have one problem with ASCL’s advice. It seems that they are inviting schools to submit vast numbers of scripts for remarking to mark our outrage. I’m sorry, Brian Lightman, but I don’t want to do that. I don’t want my kids given the false hope that this would generate. I don’t want any more political games played with my kids grades. Remarking can always result in a lowering of the mark and if that happened to one kid it would pile injustice upon injustice.

By all means, inundate exam boards with long detailed submissions about this fiasco, append reams of kids good quality Controlled Assessment that has been wrongly labelled a D, copy everything to Ofqual and your MP, sign the epetition but, please, no more games with kids’ futures!

GCSE English Results 2012 OCR Grade Boundaries

Having looked through the OCR Website, these are summaries of the GCSE Grade Boundaries in all three of the English qualifications: English, English Language and English Literature.

I have gone back to the start of this qualification in 2010 and, as centres have the option of submitting Controlled Assessments or, indeed, sitting the examination, in either January or June there have been now four cycles of assessment. Therefore, the grade boundaries have been published – publically available on the OCR website – four times since the inception of the specification: January and June 2011, January and June 2012.

Let’s take English first: the standalone qualification that combines some elements of literature and language.

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You can see here that in every part of the qualification, the grade boundaries have increased and that the majority of the increase has focussed on the C/D borderline candidates and especially in the Reading Literary Texts and Imaginative Writing units which are Controlled Assessments. Students produce these essays in class, in examination conditions over the course of the two year qualification. When marked against criteria, students’ essays are awarded a numerical mark and these are the raw scores listed above. A student completing an essay in January 2011 may have achieved 21 marks and the evidence at that time would suggest it was a low C-grade essay; when submitted in June 2012, that same essay with the same raw score of 21 comes out as a low D-grade essay.

Only a student whose essay is marked at 25 points would have been awareded a C-grade in June 2012. However, when that student was being handed the essay back, they would have been under the impression that it was a very strong C-grade essay and almost a B-grade essay. If a school were to be offering additional support and assistance and mentoring to their C/D borderline students as many schools do, this student would not have been a candidate even though the essay has only barely crossed and C/D threshold in June 2012.

The effect is even more pronounced in the Imaginative Writing unit: if students were awarded a C by their teachers for their work produced in the course of Year 10 or 11, every single student would have been downgraded to a D because the C-grade boundary has shifted from 21-25 to 26-29.

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These are the English Language Grade Boundaries. The same pattern emerges: the grade boundaries of Controlled Assessments have shifted by a significant number of marks and especially in the C/D borderline. Here, however, the effect is slightly less extreme: because this qualification marks are out of 60, the increase in grade boundaries does not shift attainment by whole grades as it does in the English qualification. Therefore a larger proportion of those students receiving essays and stories back at C-grades still achieved their C-grade.

This qualification also demands only one literary essay whereas the English qualification requires three which are then averaged out.

These two qualifications are important: these are the grades that sixth form and vocational colleges, employers and schools look to to determine whether the candidate has the baseline C for literacy and is almost invariably looked for. Whilst many colleges will still be accepting students with a D instead of a C, and no doubt have been inundated with phone calls recently, the C-grade in GCSE English / Language is still going to be a benchmark for the ability to communicate into the future.

For the sake of completeness, below are the English Literature grade boundaries.

This shows that the Literature qualification has not suffered from this rise in grade boundaries to anything like the same extent as the English or Language: the C-grade threshold is almost identical to the previous years, having increased by a single mark. The rise in grade boundaries here has affected the lower grades: Es and Fs have seen the gratest rise in grade boundaries; A*-B demonstrate a lowering of the grade boundaries. A number of factors may help to explain this: a large number of schools elect not to enter students for Literature without a realistic probability of achieving a C grade; it is a more challenging exam requiring detailed knowledge and understanding of six texts encompassing drama, poetry and prose in both contemporary and “heritage” contexts and from other cultures.

The Heritage Prose and Contemporary Poetry examination is peculiar: at foundation level, the grade boundaries have reduced slightly; at the higher level, there is a huge rise: every student who wrote to the same level as a C grade essay in January 2012, which would have required 19-23 marks, would have achieved a D-grade in June 2012.

Now, I am not banging any particular drum here. These are publically available statistics and I have done nothing more here than put in one place information in the OCR website.

The OCR Examination Board’s official stance, as stated on their website, is

Grade boundaries are not automatically carried forward and are set in the context of the overall performance on a specification.

This summer is the first time we have certificated at specification level for GCSE English and English Language and also saw a far higher entry for the coursework units than at any previous exam series.

Our responsibility is to ensure that, overall, we maintain standards as we move to the new specifications and this, inevitably, has an impact on the setting of the boundaries.

Whilst significant increases in coursework or controlled assessment boundaries from one examination to the next are not desirable, all the examination boards needed to raise these this summer.

Overall, the awarders were confident that the right standards had been carried forward for the new English specifications to meet the regulator’s expectations of comparable outcomes in these subjects.

The OCR website is www.ocr.org.uk for those of you who want to check it out yourselves.

If you have concerns about your results, it is possible for your school to request remarking – the deadline for that or for any sort of appeal is 20th September 2012 according to the Joint Council for Qualifications http://www.jcq.org.uk/attachments/published/1695/Post%20Results%20Services%20Booklet%2012-13.pdf

However, as I understand it, it would be remarked and then the marks would be converted back into grades using the same grade boundaries as are above and, therefore, this would not itself improve your grade. And remarking will always run the risk of marks being lowered.

Three forms of post-results review are possible:

1. A clerical review to ensure that all pages of the script have been marked and the maths has been correct;

2. A review of marking to ensure that the mark scheme has been applied correctly. Note that this will only change the mark which will then be converted into a grade by the same mark scheme as in June;

3. A review of moderation if and only if the moderator has marked down Controlled Assessments that we’re submitted in June. Again, this is a review of the mark, not of the conversion from marks to grades.

There are a range of calls from NAHT, Ofqual and now even Jeremy Hunt  to have some form of review and possible regrading.

And we all must be relieved and have faith in the power of Mr Hunt to put things right!

Ofqual has now reported back and their findings are somewhat disappointing. Click here to see see my observations on the Ofqual report and a variety of other commentators from the media.