Norfolk schools spend £120,000 on getting exam papers re-marked
06:30 04 January 2016
Hundreds of teenagers who were given the wrong GCSE grades this summer saw their results improve following a massive increase in the number of papers schools asked to be re-marked, an EDP and Norwich Evening News survey has revealed.
The figures, uncovered by a series of Freedom of Information requests to high schools, showed schools and parents spent nearly £120,000 on re-marks this summer.
Brian Conway, headteacher of Notre Dame High School in Norwich, said: “We would prefer not to be doing this. We want the exam system to be sound, and the exam results to be right first time. It’s not a good use of public money to be doing these appeals.”
A delegation of local headteachers raised their concerns about the exam marking system with Norfolk MPs last term, and now a member of a powerful Commons committee that scrutinises public spending has pledged to raise the issue with education ministers.
The Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents the seven largest exam boards, did not answer questions from the Evening News, but last month said many grade changes “are a reflection of very slight differences in examiners’ judgments, rather than poor marking”.
Thetford Academy and Ormiston Victory Academy
Of high schools in our region, Thetford Academy asked for highest number of re-marks – both in total, and per pupil – and spent the second highest amount of money on the process. Of the 315 re-marks requested, 19pc saw a grade change – in line with the regional average.
Executive principal Adrian Ball said: “A large number of papers returned were within one or two marks of a grade boundary. Where we thought it appropriate to request a re-mark we did so.” He said he did not think that exam marking had become less reliable.
Asked whether the large number of re-marks was an attempt to improve the school’s league table position, he said: “Where we felt the work the pupils had put in over the year justified requesting a re-mark we did. Obviously, as individual pupil outcomes improved, so would the whole school measure.”
He said it was money well spent, as every increase in a grade gave that pupil a better opportunity in later life, and noted the majority of successful re-marks were for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Ormiston Victory Academy, in Costessey, requested one of the highest numbers of re-marks, 169, but had one of the lowest success rates.
A spokesman said: “Supporting students to achieve their full potential is always our priority. Public money will always be carefully preserved and we only invest resource in re-marks where the results are so incongruous with students’ projections, assessments and attainment in similar subjects. GCSEs matter to students’ futures, especially in mathematics and English.
“Students achieved on average a grade and a half higher in English literature GCSE than they did in English Language iGCSE and it is the latter subject that is the focus of the majority of remarks. The results are still the subject of ongoing investigations.”
A total of 42 schools in Norfolk, north Suffolk and east Cambridgeshire asked for 3,174 re-marks this year, compared to 2,087 the year before – an increase of 52pc. In both years, about one in five grades were changed.
Overall, at least 834 grades were changed.
South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, who sits on the Public Accounts Committee, said: “It does not sound as if the degree of variance can be explained by anything other than some kind of inadequate process. It’s something I will take up with the Department for Education.”
Scott Lyons, joint division secretary for Norfolk NUT, pointed to another factor that could explain the explosion of re-marks.
He said: “Schools are under so much pressure that any extra exam pass at A*-C grade they can get will make a massive difference to the number of pupils they can get, and whether they get an Ofsted visit.”
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