GCSE Fiasco: The Truth Comes Out

For the last two weeks when blogged I’ve felt the need to put fiasco in inverted commas. No longer, the gloves are off and the inverted commas are gone.

Tomorrow the education select committee are meeting to discuss the issues surrounding the GCSE results, in particular English. Last week in my blog I raised a couple of points I felt needed further investigation:

  1. What statistical information was used to produce the initial grade boundaries?
  2. What was the ‘prior data’ being used to allow norm referencing?
  3. How would this be fair and avoid punishing students due to the lack of Key Stage 3 data?

We now have vague answers to those questions.

Since the beginning of the fiasco Geoff Barton (Head Teacher & English teacher) has questioned whether Ofqual were best placed to investigate the situation. Ofqual has insisted since the beginning that they were because they’re independent and haven’t leaned on any exam boards. They also promised to release ALL correspondence with the exam boards. They haven’t.

Tonight the Times Education Supplement has breaking news containing ‘secret’ letters between the Edexcel exam board and Ofqual’s director of standards Dennis Opposs. As I write this the TES haven’t published the letters, just a summary but it contains some pretty damning information:

  • Ofqual leaned on Edexcel to increase the number of marks required to get a C
  • Edexcel believed their initial grade boundaries (at the January level) were “a fair award and we do not believe a further revision of our grade boundaries is justified.”
  • The grade boundaries were eventually increased by ten marks (as were AQA’s and despite the fact Ofqual say the controlled assessment boundaries were the problem). Therefore it appears the grade boundaries were arrived at using the same statistical information was January and were only changed once Ofqual got involved
  • Key stage 2 data was used to help ‘norm-reference’ this summer’s exam results, despite the poor reliability and validity of such data (and that Ofqual failed 4 / 5 of their own criteria required to be able to apply norm referencing to exam series)

Put simply – Edexcel disagree with Ofqual’s conclusion that January students ‘got lucky’ and the boundaries were too lenient.

It’s difficult to work out what the political fall out of this will be. This is an issue that’s difficult for the general electorate to understand, the way exam results are calculated and arrived at is not a simple process. It will increase calls for an independent inquiry, which must now surely happen. It will also increase pressure to change the summer’s grade boundaries which must surely now be considered to be incorrect. Let’s hope our elected MPs take this seriously and set an inquiry in motion.

Edit: BBC News have just published the story on their website. The article contains a quote from Ofqual:

An Ofqual spokesman said: “We have made it clear that where exam boards propose results that differ significantly from expectations, we will challenge them and intervene where necessary to make sure standards are correct.

If this is the case, then why didn’t they do that in January when students managed to ‘get lucky’. Surely those results differed significant from expectations and if they didn’t why were they those same grade boundaries such a problem in the summer?

(note: As I write this it’s nearly midnight so please excuse any silly spelling or grammar errors. The full text of the letters haven’t yet been published on the TES website.)

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