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Stephanie Broad: "This growing ‘marking crisis’ is likely driven by time pressure and a lack of qualified markers, and will need to be addressed in line with upcoming AS and A level reforms"

Taking it to another level

On this year's A level results day we're likely to see more appeals and pressure on exam boards, says editor Stephanie Broad

Posted by Stephanie Broad | August 11, 2015 | People, policy, politics

I remember my A level results day well. Further away now than I care to think about, there was heartache as I scanned the slip and discovered I had missed one of the grades required for my conditional university place. Swiftly logging into UCAS, the tears turned to joy as I had got the place anyway – the Which? guide to clearing explains that this is often a possibility. 

This year, those precious few letters on the slip will be under more scrutiny than ever as it was revealed that exam boards have ‘guesstimated’ grades due to missing or incomplete papers. This growing ‘marking crisis’ is likely driven by time pressure and a lack of qualified markers, and will need to be addressed in line with upcoming AS and A level reforms from September 2015.

Ofqual, the regulator for examinations in England and vocational qualifications in Northern Ireland, recently released a report on OCR’s struggle to deliver results on time last year as well as estimating grades, prompting fears over the quality of marking and the processes in place. 

Peter Hamilton, Chair of HMC's Academic Policy Sub Committee and Headmaster of Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, said: "HMC has been concerned about poor exam marking for some years and has worked closely with Ofqual to ensure all pupils, parents and teachers can have complete faith in public examinations. We welcome this report but are disturbed to see laid bare the chaotic way in which marking was conducted at OCR in 2014. 

"Marking will become more demanding over the next four years as the government's exam reforms start to bite. Each year the future of hundreds of thousands of pupils are reliant on timely and consistent marking so there can be no let-up in the scrutiny of all the examination boards. HMC will help to ensure this happens.” 

OCR have since improved their marking, however schools are being encouraged to push for clarification where they feel mistakes have been made on students’ results. According to Ofqual, enquiries and appeals regarding grades have risen by thousands each year since 2008, which could result in more students than ever going into Clearing. Take a look at Kingston University’s top tips on the Clearing process to help your students on the day. 

Overall, it’s important to stay positive – as president of the Girls’ Schools Association Alun Jones advises students to do on their website

“What happens on A Level results day can alter the course of your life,” says Jones. “You need to keep calm, remain focused and take control of your situation. Hopefully you will get the results and the university place you want. But, if not, all is not lost. Take stock, make a plan and ‘phone universities yourself – they want to hear from you, not your parents. And remember that there is no longer a cap on the number of students universities can recruit – it’s a buyer’s market and most universities will be happy to consider last minute applicants.” 

Let us know how your students got on – send your news and photos from the day to    

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