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Headteachers warn exam results are not fair to all pupils

Ofqual say that challenges to grades have fallen but HMC and NAHT advise that this doesn't mean the end to unfair results

Posted by Lucinda Reid | December 19, 2016 | People, policy, politics

Ofqual today released its annual statistics on the number of schools and colleges that challenged pupils’ exam grades in 2016.

This shows that the number of challenges has fallen for both GCSE and A-level results, which is a result predicted by HMC and NAHT based on concerns that state schools do not have sufficient resources to mount legitimate and justifiable enquiries into initial grades.  This problem is evident by the fact that, for at least the past eight years, the proportion of challenges resulting in re-grades remains high. 

During autumn 2016 almost one in five A-level and GCSE challenges resulted in the grade published in August being overturned when reviewed by the exam board.

The figures were released amidst continuing protests about cuts to schools budgets and serve to increase the concern that the cost of challenging a grade is prohibitive for many state schools. The cost for challenging exam grades is estimated at between £8.5m and £25m a year, as the fees vary according to the kind of challenge that a school or college makes.

The school leaders union, NAHT, has called for a better system that gets more exam results right the first time, so that less pupils have to go through the appeal process.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders union NAHT, said: These figures show that the percentage of candidates given a new grade following appeal is still worryingly high, suggesting that flaws in quality assurance arrangements still exist.   Whilst we can be pleased that these mistakes have been picked up and corrected we might well wonder how many more students never even had their exam papers checked but could have had their grades improved. This has serious consequences for pupils’ life chances.”

Peter Hamilton, Chair of HMC’s Academic Policy Committee and Head of Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, agreed that data obtained by HMC suggests its schools have put in a similar number of challenges this year and the level of mistakes and inaccuracies have not diminished.

“These figures appear to show more confidence in initial exam results but the real story is quite different. The problem of inaccurate and unreliable grades has not gone away – on the contrary, more pupils are likely to be losing out. Overall, heads of HMC schools report feeling no more convinced about the accuracy of exam grades this year. This is why they have felt obliged to pursue the usual number of complex and lengthy challenges and we are grateful that we have the resource to do so for our pupils.”

“We are very concerned about students whose state schools are struggling more and more to appeal because of lack of resources,” continued Peter. “This is doubly unfair and a significant worry to anyone who cares about all young people reaching their potential. We are hoping to work with Ofqual in 2017 on new solutions to problems which have such huge implications for young people’s futures.”

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