Exam marking ‘crisis’: former Ofsted director Mike Cladingbowl backs call for action

A group of headteachers, including former Ofsted national director Mike Cladingbowl, have warned of “increasing inconsistency and inaccuracy” in exam marking and called for “immediate and decisive action” to tackle this.

In a letter to the exams watchdog Ofqual, shared with TES, the headteachers of 20 secondary schools say they want an immediate review of the quality of marking, arguing that problems experienced by their own schools may be “the tip of an iceberg”.

The school leaders, all based in Cheshire East, say they have experienced a range of problems, including high numbers of re-marks in GCSE English papers, “punitive and erratic marking” and volatility in English and foreign language results. Some students have been forced to change their A-level subject choices because of lower-than-expected GCSE results that were later revised upwards, they say.

“I’ve been surprised by the strength of feeling among headteachers about this,” Mr Cladingbowl, who since leaving Ofsted in December has been executive principal of Knutsford Multi-Academy Trust, told TES.

“There’s definitely a sense among headteachers that it’s getting worse,” he added. “They want to work with Ofqual to work out how to make the system better and fairer.”

Denis Oliver, headteacher of Holmes Chapel Comprehensive School and one of the letter’s signatories, told TES his own school had been “shocked” by this year’s English results, which were lower than expected but were revised upwards after appeals in many cases.

“When students find out about the re-mark result, the look on their face is one of delight but also horror that they are now taking their second-choice courses because they didn’t get the grade at first,” he said.

The exam marking system was at “crisis point”, he argued, adding: “My lower sixth have no faith whatsoever in the English marking and little faith in other marking, too.”

In a speech on Monday at an exam reform conference in London, Ms Stacey said fewer than 1 per cent of all grades awarded in 2014 were later changed.

“It may appear fair from a statistical perspective, but that’s no consolation to you if you’re a student who has been given the wrong mark,” Mr Cladingbowl said.

An Ofqual spokeswoman said: “We have received a letter from the Cheshire heads and our chair Amanda Spielman and colleagues we will be meeting with representatives in early November to hear and respond to their concerns.”

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