F for fail! Exam boards are facing huge fines over sloppy marking as Education Secretary Gavin Williamson hands regulator greater powers
- AQA admitted for 3 years some papers were re-marked by the same examiner
- One of Britain’s biggest exam board ordered to pay record-breaking £1m in fines
- Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said willing to give Ofqual ‘more powers’
- Ofqual has power to fine up to ten per cent of an organisation’s annual turnover
Exam boards face huge fines under a crackdown on GCSE and A-level marking blunders.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warned exam bosses that he is open to giving regulator Ofqual ‘more powers’ and the ‘ability to fine even larger amounts’.
The move comes after one of Britain’s biggest exam boards was ordered to pay a record-breaking £1million this week in fines and compensation after a scandal over re-marking.
AQA admitted that for three years some of its papers were re-marked by the same examiners who had originally marked them. It meant those reviewing the grades potentially had a vested interest in keeping them the same, so they wouldn’t expose their earlier mistakes.
One of Britain’s biggest exam boards was ordered to pay a record-breaking £1million this week in fines and compensation after a scandal over re-marking (file image)
Lawyers say parents who paid for their child’s paper to be re-marked in the belief the grade was too low could now sue.
Mr Williamson said the scandal undermined confidence in the system and he vowed to ‘put matters right’. He added: ‘I am absolutely fully supportive of what Ofqual have done.
‘It is a real sign that as a regulator they are not going to hold back, they are going to tackle exam boards where they got things wrong and they will be exceptionally robust in doing so, and they have my full backing.
‘By them acting in this way it builds more confidence in the system because people have the belief that Ofqual won’t be timid in their actions. I will always be there ready to listen if Ofqual needs more support, more powers, more ability to fine even larger amounts.’
The penalty for AQA – a £350,000 fine and £735,000 in compensation to schools and exam centres – is the largest Ofqual has imposed since it was set up in 2010.
Previously the record fine was to OCR, which last year had to pay £175,000 after mixing up the Montagues and the Capulets in a GCSE paper on Shakespeare.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warned exam bosses that he is open to giving regulator Ofqual ‘more powers’ and the ‘ability to fine even larger amounts’
Currently, Ofqual has the power to impose fines of up to ten per cent of an organisation’s annual turnover.
Increasing those powers further could mean boards in future would face fines of many millions, although a smaller fine is more likely because it is the damage to their reputations which the boards fear most.
Mr Williamson said: ‘For the quality of the exam system, it is so integral for people to have the confidence and belief in terms of what we do for delivering the best education. It’s actually in the interest of the exam boards that we have a robust regulator that isn’t timid about fining them.
‘I assure everyone that I will continue to work incredibly closely with Ofqual to make sure that matters are put right. This isn’t acceptable behaviour, it’s not something that we will tolerate. Ofqual have shown that they will take action and that is what they have demonstrated and done.’
Ofqual estimated that the AQA scandal affected more than 53,000 exam papers, equivalent to seven per cent of all reviews carried out by the board between 2016 and last year.
The regulator said there was no evidence pupils got the wrong grades, but added: ‘The failures have the potential to seriously undermine public confidence in the review of marking.’
Mark Bedlow, interim chief executive at AQA, said: ‘I want to reassure everyone that this past technical issue – which we’ve fixed now – didn’t affect the outcome of anyone’s review. Where necessary, grades were still changed.’
Half not getting good grades at GCSE
More than half of GCSE pupils have failed to gain good passes in the new English and maths exams.
Figures from this summer’s papers show 57 per cent of students at state secondary schools did not score at least a grade five in the two subjects – the equivalent of a high C under the old system.
A grade five is considered a strong pass by the government and is used to hold schools to account for performance.
Results varied greatly, with more than half of pupils at Michaela Community School in Wembley, north-west London – a ‘free school’ known for its strict discipline – getting grades of seven or above, equivalent to the old-style A and A*.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said last night that such schools, which are state-funded but independent of local authority control, were the way to drive up standards.
‘What we want to be doing is lifting everyone up and this is why the free schools programme has been so effective,’ he added.