GCSE Exam marking system is broken

Exam marking

Is basically a fiasco.

Well actually that is not quite true.  Not all of it is.   I have some very hard working friends who are keen and conscientious exam markers so this post is not directed at them.   I know they are under huge amounts of pressure, not being paid a huge amount and are all doing their best and also caught up in a system that is, I think, fundamentally broken.      I know exam markers are doing it in their spare time, around their only family commitments and full time jobs and it really can’t be easy for them either.

This post is about the system in general and how I think it is broken and needs to be radically overhauled.

I had this post in my head yesterday as it has directly affected us and then I read in the paper this morning that Chris King, Chairman of the Headteachers and Headmistresses Conference is saying the same thing in a speech he is due to give today.   He says the current system of exam marking is “untenable” and needs a massive overhaul.    I don’t know enough about it to make a statement like that but I do know that we have just been caught up in it and needs a drastic rethink at the very least.

This summer Ellie sat her GCSEs and did bloody brilliantly.    She was due to stay on at her school, going into the Sixth Form and was offered a place conditional on her getting at least five A* to C grade passes, with at least a B or A in the subjects she wanted to do at A level.  She worked her arse off from Christmas onwards and got amazing grades.     One of which was a C in English Literature.   I still thought that was great, especially as I got a U <ahem> but Ellie was a bit miffed.    She isnt doing English at A level so it didn’t make a difference to her staying on, but it made a difference to her personally.

Then we heard rumblings that a large number of pupils not just at her school but at other schools locally had asked for that paper to be remarked as lots of teachers and other parents were not happy.   Nor were many at Ellie’s school and many asked for the paper to re-marked.   In EVERY instance the grade had gone up.    Every single one.

Hmm.   So we asked for Ellie’s to be re-marked.   It didn’t really matter as she had still got a C, a pass, and had enough to get into the Sixth Form but for our own peace of mind we wanted to know.  And Ellie wanted to know that her hard work and reading of the texts had been rewarded with the right grade.

It cost £62 to get the paper remarked.  I know.  Don’t get me started.   Over sixty quid for the re-mark.    But whilst I really didn’t want to pay it I did want Ellie to know if she had been downgraded.

Lo and behold yesterday we find out that she had in fact got a B, not a C after all.   Extra marks had been found, seven in fact, and her mark had gone up a grade.   Not just a couple of marks found, but 7.

Which is great for Ellie as it is the mark she was expecting given the amount of work she did.   But how is that fair in the bigger scheme of things?

We have paid over £60 for that, had we not been able to pay it then Ellie would still have her C.  How is that fair?

Is this just a money making exercise?  It certainly looks like it to me.   What a great way for a company to make money.   I am sure that is not the case but as a money making scheme it is genius, isn’t it?

We did have a discussion about what would have happened if this was A Levels.  This could really have been the difference between her getting into her first choice of University, and not and it having an effect on more than just her own peace of mind.

I don’t know what the answer is but there has to be one because this system is broken.  And grossly unfair.

Photo of a pile of books courtesy of Shutterstock

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  • Really interesting read and firstly as the remark involved a change of grade you should get your money back. The fee only applies if the grade is not changed. I exam mark and I agree the system is crap and broken. I actually challenged a pre marked script that was marked wrong. It had been marked by a senior marker.
    The pay for marking is disrespectful and causes examiners to try to get through as many as possible in an hour just to hit the min wage mark. I know of many who had their English remarked this past exam sitting and it is fundamentally wrong. It means that students, teachers and parents have all lost trust in the system.

    • THanks Emma. As I say I really hope people don’t see this as me having a pop at the examiners. There is a line in the report that says apparently “6% of examiners are not up to the standards required” and I am not sure I believe that. I think they are but are being failed by the whole system. I know the hours you, and other markers put in and feel for you, as you say, trust has been completely lost.

      I dont know what the answer is for any of it to be honest.

      I am off to email about getting my money back now then too, thanks for the tip!

  • Before I had my children, I worked for an awarding body who did vocational qualifications for adults. We had written exams too and did charge a significant (at the time) amount for a remark – not only because we had to pay another examiner but also to deter the ‘hard done by’ brigade who were happy to believe that if they threw enough money it at, they would get their qualification – which was often needed for promotion or similar.

    If we costed it out (as a small awarding body) the fee just about covered our time, postage and everything else and felt that was fair.

    The depressing thing is though, that my GCSE Science papers had to be remarked in 1991 because the marking was inconsistent – my grades went from a C to a B – which thankfully justified my begging to be allowed to do A Level Human Biology – which I went on to do well in. It beggars belief that, almost at the beginning of GCSE’s, no-one thought to put in the checks to make sure it wasn’t happening 20+ years later.

    With the amount of money that schools spend on examinations, there has to be a better way – and I really hope they find it very quickly.

  • That’s brilliant for Ellie, but so wrong you had to pay to see that result and like you say what about the kids whose parents can’t afford to pay or aren’t informed….

    • Exactly. It’s not right is it? That those that an afford it get the re-mark and those that can’t, well, they don’t. And as Emma has pointed out, it should be refunded but if you haven’t got it in the first place that is not help!

  • Really interesting. I am not sure that marking should be an additional job. I think that it should be the only job that the marker does.

  • Lord I haven’t stepped into this world yet, and I find it all utterly terrifying. Marks count for so much from such an early age and can really alter the trajectory of your education. It seems mad that so much re-marking is necessary and, like you say, what about the people who can’t afford £60 a go to be certain that their child got the mark they deserve?

  • My son had his English Language paper delayed (WTF, they had all summer) and also his English Lit paper and Maths paper remarked however the school footed the bill. Grades were changed (one wasn’t) but I’m grateful to the school for insisting that there was an initial error.

    • Interesting your school footed it. I am pissed off that as Ellie is at a private school the system thinks we can afford to pay for it instead of the school. How on earth has he got delayed papers?!! That is bonkers.

      • We were trying to work out how the papers got delayed – it affected his entry into college and a whole load of other stuff too. The results were delayed by a week – then texted to us then sent out on the official paper record. By this time (obviously) college had started and adjustments had to be made.

        J isn’t an A-student but the difference between a C and a D was the thing we had to deal with because of the additional classes he may have had to attend for either extra support or a November re-sit. Luckily, the re-mark and the delayed paper marks meant that he didn’t have to attend the additional classes but he had to register for them at the start of college “just in case” and that was SO demoralising for him!

  • It’s so unfair, so many people wont be able to afford a remark and that could result in loss of job opportunities/uni/6th form opportunities for them, so unfair.
    Well done for highlighting this issue.

  • Our local secondary had 37 out of 90 kids not get the mark they were expected to, for Maths GCSE. That’s either a failing on behalf of the school, or the papers being marked badly. Given that the school is one of the highest ranked and best Offsteaded (that’s bad spelling I know, believe it or not I got an A in English ) in the area and normally has excellent results it’s likely it’s not them but the markers or the marking criteria. The school is appealing. Those kids have worked very hard, it’s brutally unfair if they have, and done their best but they are screwed by a marking system. I’m glad at least that Ellie got the mark she deserved!

    • This is what happened at my son’s school too. There were far too many students “undermarked”, hence the school’s request to have some papers re-marked. The school was right in the end and I’m glad they appealed.