20 May 2012

Exams whistleblower: ‘thousands’ of papers could be wrong

Social Affairs Editor and Presenter

The whistleblower suspended for alerting schools to mistakes in the marking of last year’s GCSE and A-Levels tells Channel 4 News that “thousands” of papers could have been marked incorrectly.

Speaking exclusively to Channel 4 News, David Leitch explained how following requests from schools in August 2011 for re-marking, he and his team spotted basic clerical errors in 100 papers.

This led them to carry out extended checks on other papers marked by the same examiners and found a further 200 errors.

When Mr Leitch spotted these mistakes, which could have resulted in incorrect grades for last year’s A-Level and GCSE students, he was told by the exam board OCR to stop the checks.

He explained: “Unfortunately then it transpired that OCR wanted us to discontinue the checks which had led to these errors being uncovered. We were very surprised by this and thought ‘why don’t you want to know the errors that have occurred?’

“We were amazed. We wanted the candidates to receive the correct results and if these checks were not brought to light they wouldn’t get the correct results.”

“It’s so bizarre, it should be of paramount significance to all of us who work within an awarding body that we issue correct results to our candidates. It’s the number one priority that we have. To tell people that have uncovered mistakes that you must discontinue these checks is outrageous.”

Read more: GCSE and A-Level exam re-marking Q+A

OCR insisted he must stop the checks, and to tell only those schools who had requested checks to be told of the mistakes which had been uncovered. OCR assured him that new checks would be put in place for future exams. Mr Leitch was unhappy with this response and took his concerns to the exam regulator Ofqual.

To tell people that have uncovered mistakes that you must discontinue these checks is outrageous. David Leitch

Ofqual have told Channel 4 News that it did instruct OCR to carry out an investigation and OCR told us that’s exactly what it did. OCR say their assessors checked the scripts of over 1,100 examiners and in only a few cases did this affect the overall grade that had been awarded.

But Mr Leitch is not convinced all the necessary checks were done. Mr Leitch and his team surreptitiously carried on checking papers in March and April of this year and found mistakes in a further 300 papers. In the last few weeks he claims to have uncovered an additional 50 to 100 papers containing marking errors.

He said: “We checked 50,000 scripts and found 700 errors. I believe there would have been thousands. Not thousands of incorrect grades, but thousands of incorrect results issued.

“What I found with the incorrect results that I uncovered, was that about 10 per cent of them were incorrect results that should be a higher grade, 10 per cent were results that should have been a lower grade and 80 per cent were no grade change”.

Why are examiners making so many mistakes? Read more in Jackie Long's new blog

Unhappy with both his superiors’ and Ofqual’s responses, last week, Mr Leitch took it upon himself to email the 30 schools where he believed candidates had been awarded a lower grade than they had actually achieved. He has consequently been suspended.

10 per cent of them were incorrect results that should be a higher grade. David Leitch

OCR has told Channel 4 News that its priority at this time is to reassure those taking exams now that the systems have been significantly improved and said it would be “glad to share any lessons learnt from last year’s mistakes” with the exam regulator, Ofqual.

In a statement Ofqual said that in light of the allegations: “We have written to OCR seeking an urgent explanation. We would ask that Mr Leitch also shares all the documents he has with us. We will not comment further on this case until we have seen OCR’s full response.

“If we find OCR has acted improperly we will take the matter further and if appropriate use our enforcement powers.”

‘Simply unacceptable’

The Department of Education reacted strongly saying the level of error was “simply unacceptable”:

“The level of error here is simply unacceptable. We have been crystal clear that exam boards must produce papers that are error-free, and award the correct grades to students.

“It is exactly these kinds of issues that have led us to strengthen Ofqual’s regulatory powers and introduce a new power to allow them to fine exam boards in the future.

“We are continuing to look at whether even stronger powers are needed.”