2 Nov 2012

Under pressure teachers ‘boosted GCSE marks’

Teachers under intense pressure to achieve good grades are guilty of “significantly” over-marking pupils’ GCSE coursework in some schools, says the exams regulator Ofqual.

Under pressure teachers 'boosted GCSE marks' (G)

Teenagers have been let down by an exam system that is abused by some teachers who feel under huge pressure by schools to achieve good grades, Ofqual warned.

Chief regulator Glenys Stacey said she was “shocked” by what she had found in some schools in England. But she said that rather than a deliberate attempt to inflate grades, it was a result of too much pressure on schools to achieve certain grades, and badly designed exams that relied too much on teachers’ marks.

Ofqual’s new report is the latest into the GCSE English marking controversy earlier this year, where teachers believed that thousands of children had been marked down in their GCSE English exams in June after the grade boundaries changed after January exams.

Headteachers said that blaming teachers for the problems with the exam marking was “outrageous”.

Read more: Questions over south London school ‘cheating inquiry’

‘Jumping through hoops’

The report found that it is hard for teachers to maintain their integrity, when they believe that other teachers are abusing the system. Ms Stacey laid blame for the debacle on intense pressure on schools to reach certain targets, which led to over-marking, as well as poorly designed exams and too much of an emphasis on work marked by teachers.

Teachers feel under enormous pressure in English, more than in any other subject, and we have seen that too often, this is pushing them to the limit. That won’t do either. Glenys Stacey, Ofqual chief regulator

“We have been shocked by what we have found. Children have been let down. That won’t do,” Ms Stacey said. “It’s clear that children are increasingly spending too much time jumping through hoops rather than learning the real skills they need in life. That won’t do.

“Teachers feel under enormous pressure in English, more than in any other subject, and we have seen that too often, this is pushing them to the limit. That won’t do either.”

Headteachers have said that tens of thousands of teenagers received lower GCSE English grades than expected this year, after exam boards moved the grade boundaries between January and June.

An initial report by Ofqual concluded that June boundaries were properly set and candidates’ work properly graded, but that some of January’s assessments were “graded generously”.

Today’s report is the final by Ofqual, looking at the reasons behind the changes in results.


ASCL Deputy General Secretary Malcolm Trobe, said: “For Ofqual to suggest that teachers and schools are to blame is outrageous, and flies in the face of the evidence. Ofqual is responsible for ensuring fairness and accuracy in the system.

“The fact remains that different standards were applied to the exams in June and January and this is blatantly wrong. The accountability measures do place tremendous pressure on teachers and schools, especially at GCSE grade C, but to say that teachers would compromise their integrity to the detriment of students is an insult.”

He added that the chances of a fair investigation by a regulator into its own conduct were “never great”.


The new English GCSEs, which were awarded for the first time this year, were split up into modules, with pupils sitting written exam papers and “controlled assessment” – coursework completed under strict classroom supervision.

It was down to schools to decide when pupils submitted their controlled assessment work and sat the exams.

Ofqual’s report found that many schools used the marks pupils received in their first exams and the January grade boundaries to work out what score a pupil would need in their controlled assessment and marked it accordingly.

The majority of controlled assessment work was submitted in the summer, and examiners saw evidence of over-marking.

As a result, grade boundaries were raised to take account of this, and led to some students getting lower grades than expected.