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GCSE Fiasco: Report Blames Teachers' Marking
Teenagers have been let down by an exams system that is abused by teachers who are under intense pressure to achieve good grades, regulator Ofqual has said.
Teachers in some of England's secondary schools were guilty of "significantly" over-marking pupils' GCSE English work this summer in order to boost results, according to Ofqual boss Glenys Stacey.
In a new report into this summer's GCSE English fiasco, Ms Stacey said that it is hard for teachers to maintain their integrity when they believe that others are playing the system.
She 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.
"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 some of January's assessments were "graded generously" but the June boundaries were properly set and candidates' work properly graded.
The regulator has published its second report, looking at the reasons behind the changes in results.
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.
Under the current system, schools are judged on the number of pupils who score at least five C grades at GCSE, including English and Maths.
This measure is included in league tables, with schools expected to have at least 40% of students reaching this standard.
Those which do not, and fall short on other pupil progress measures, are considered failing.
From September next year, English GCSEs will no longer be modular in England and any exams or work submitted next January will be marked, but not graded until after June's exam season.
It has been estimated by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) that hundreds of schools saw a large fall in the numbers of pupils scoring at least a C in GCSE English this year.
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.
"The fact remains that different standards were applied to the exams in June and January and this is blatantly wrong."
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: "Ofqual seem to be shifting the blame whilst at the same time exposing the nonsense of floor targets.
"The fact remains that young people were let down. The solution is to regrade the exams of young people who, together with their teachers, worked to the parameters set in January."
An alliance of pupils, schools, councils and professional bodies have launched a legal challenge over the fiasco, calling for this summer's English results to be re-graded.
Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board, said: "It is clear from Ofqual's final report today that the issues this summer were largely caused by the structure of the GCSE English qualifications, combining with the pressures of performance measures on schools."