The number of A-level and GCSE grades that are changed after being re-marked has dropped by a quarter after an overhaul of the examination appeals system, according to the exam regulator.
The dramatic decline was welcomed by Ofqual chiefs who had become increasingly concerned about the growing number of schools and pupils seeking re-marks of their summer exams in the hope of improving their grades.
More than 427,000 challenges to results were made by schools this year, down from 572,400 in 2015. The proportion of appeals that resulted in a grade change remained largely unchanged, at 18% compared with 19% in 2015.
The Ofqual report also revealed there had been a tripling in the number of reported errors in summer exam papers, with flaws in 29 papers, affecting more than 320,000 students. The number of security breaches, mainly as a result of schools handing out the wrong papers or leaks via social media, was also slightly up on last year.
The chief regulator, Sally Collier, said: “Quality of marking is a very important issue for us. The ability to have marking reviewed, and corrected if necessary, is critical to a fair qualifications system.”
School leaders pointed out that even under Ofqual’s new rules, almost 70,000 exam grades still had to be changed, down from just under 91,000 in 2015 They called for the marking system to be improved to boost confidence in the system.
Leora Cruddas, the director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is not surprising that there has been a reduction in the number of grades challenged and changed because Ofqual has changed the rules on exam appeals, which makes it harder for an appeal to be successful.
“However, even under the new rules, 67,900 exam grades were not right the first time round and this is obviously far too many. These exams are vital to the life chances of young people and the marking system has to be improved.”
The new appeals system was introduced this summer as a means of deterring some schools and pupilsfrom trying for “a second bite of the cherry”. Exam boards are now allowed to change a mark only if there has been a clear marking error. The concern had been that legitimate marks were being changed on appeal as a result of differences of opinions between examiners.
As far as Ofqual is concerned, the figures serve to vindicate its changes and increase the credibility of the marking system. The regulatory body says other changes to qualifications, school performance measures and university admissions will also have contributed to the decline in appeals.
Collier said there would be a thorough evaluation of the changes to the system to check that errors were properly identified and corrected, and that legitimate marks remained unchanged. “We are also auditing exam boards’ quality assurance processes around marking to see what improvements can be made,” she said.
Michael Turner, the director general of the Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents the major exam agencies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said: “Marking all exam papers accurately and issuing grades on time is a priority for exam boards, which is why they continually seek to improve processes and the training of their teacher examiners.
“Today’s figures from Ofqual show that improvements are being made – in 2016, only 0.9% of all GCSE grades and 0.8% of all GCE grades were changed, a decrease of 25% on last year.
“Most grade changes are as a result of students close to grade boundaries being awarded a small number of extra marks on review. However, exam boards fully understand the importance of getting grades right and know there is more to be done to reduce the number of grade changes further, and will work tirelessly to achieve that goal.”