Marking versus grade boundaries

As introduction to this item one needs to refer back to the recent iEOA survey on last year’s exams and the concern raised by exam officers in their centers over the loss of UMS marks as a method to help centers decide whether to make Enquiries About Results (EARs) or follow up on marking and grade queries.


At a recent meeting on ‘Grade Reliability’ hosted by the HMC (professional Association of heads of the world’s leading independent schools) and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) the focus was on understanding how grades were awarded at GCSE against the present background of change across the educational and exam sector.


From an exam officer point of view, being confronted by students, parents and teaching staff over results on results days can be quite a daunting task especially when confronted by a new system which is being delivered for the first time. The exams officer can only respond to requests and offer solutions and protocols based upon the criteria laid down by individual awarding bodies.


While the work of this group is still in progress it is worth mentioning the difference between how people reference issues over marking and grade boundaries. In the iEOA report exam officers reported dramatic changes in marks which in turn influenced some grade changes. However, many had experienced upward changes in marks, which did not necessarily lead to any grade changes, resulting in no return of fees.


Therefore, despite evidence that marking errors may have occurred when a script has gone through the system, the grade boundaries that have already set by the individual awarding bodies and agreed with the Ofqual, before the release by the JCQ on results days, who knows, may well have had an overriding effect on the final outcomes, irrespective of the initial enquiry.


We all have to wait with expectation on what will come out of the present discussions, but everyone is committed to dealing with this issue and to make sure we maintain an effective and secure exam system in which everyone is confident. It is so important that the exams officer community continue to feed in their experiences at grass roots level on how the system actually operates as they too will benefit from the various solutions being sought on behalf of the students they serve.


A reboot of the Access Arrangements process is needed urgently.

The whole Access Arrangements process is often portrayed in a very negative way, as if it’s a mill stone around every exam officers neck, which they must bear at all costs. But not according to the JCQ. As all exam officers know the documents from the JCQ focus on SENCOs. Therefore, is it not their burden and let’s forget all this fuss about exam officers.


The attitude to this community was clearly illustrated at a recent ESEG meeting chaired by Ofqual when the JCQ stated that they had had no feedback from the exam officer community, whatsoever on their request for feedback on the AAs documentation. One might point out that this consultation issued last year by the JCQ was published on the iEOA website and we have clear evidence that feedback was given to the JCQ, and acknowledged by the JCQ.


In addition, the iEOA report highlighting this very issue was sent to the JCQ as part of their request for consultation and surveys have been shared with the JCQ for the past three years. But putting this erroneous historical rhetoric aside the JCQ is right about the whole delivery of AAs in centers. It is not just in the hands of exam officers, but then every exam officer in land knows that. They also know it is impossible to deliver AAs on exam days without exam officer awareness and insight. It is totally unacceptable to suggest otherwise.


If the exam officer community are not supposed to be involved as the JCQ keep saying then why are these documents sent to the exam officers' office, and why does it state time and time again in these JCQ documents that they must provide training on invigilation, including for SEND students if they are not involved with AAs. No wonder everyone is confused with this JCQ approach! This AAs process defined by the JCQ in their documents is not the reality people have to live with on a daily basis.


Moving on. So, instead of wasting time and energy on this exams officer involvement debate lets focus on the real issue.  The lack of clarity which stems from the processes attached to the individual needs of awarding bodies and presented through the JCQ, have served us well up until now but many are saying they are no longer fit for purpose. As stated before the JCQ is right.


These documents are not just for exams officers. They may have been focused on them in the past when AAs were small in number. Now these documents are written for a variety of audiences and have become too complex and lack the clarity needed to serve student needs and continue to secure the exam system.


Some centers have complained they have been accused of malpractice over AAs because they did not comply with the AAs code of practice. Such centers would argue that the lack clarity in the very documents that are supposed to serve their students needs was actually contributing to their so called, malpractice. The reverse of this argument might suggest that ignorance is no excuse for malpractice but clearly such ignorance will be addressed if centres are better educated through appropriately styled user friendly documentation.


In conclusion, these JCQ documents did serve a much narrower provision overseen by exams officers in the past, but that approach has had its day, and action must be taken quickly before more SEND students are damaged by this lack of action to review these documents, which of course will also benefit the whole exam officer community.