Make Exam Results Clearer

It is almost certainly the case, following analysis of data released by OFQUAL, the exams regulator, that around 1 in 4 grades awarded in GCSE and A level examinations is wrong. That this issue is not more widely debated is because it is also a very complex problem – yet it must be, because how can it possibly be fair that 1 in 4 grades that students get are not right.

The first thing to understand is that this is not about the quality of the marking or the markers. Of course, this could always be better and sometimes things go wrong with very poor markers, but mostly this is done as well as it could be.

The issue is that marking done as well as it can be still produces an inevitably uncertain result. This is a statistical fact as well as something that can be readily understood, especially in essay subjects where there is room for more judgment. The truth is that a mark of 54, 55 or 56 may not actually be different. Another marker, on another day, could rank them the other way round. Both would be ‘correct’ within reasonable limits. The problem is we convert those marks to grades and if the grade boundary is 55 then those marks matter. And yet, whatever is done to the system, this problem cannot be removed. In maths and science the inevitable error in a mark is smaller (around 1 in 5 marks are wrong). In English and History it is bigger, with more room for subjective opinion, and the grade error rate rises to nearly 40%.

This cannot be right, when students and schools are judged in results and employment and University places depend on them. The only way forward is to publish the marks. Yes, we would impose levels on that – certain employers would want a ‘70’. But at least they would know they had a candidate who was a 69 and one who was a 71 and that they were essentially the same. With our current system that would be an A grade and a B grade and the employer would think one was better than the other. To move to showing marks would only be to mirror the US and much of Europe. It would also be easy to do so. No system change is needed. Let’s hope we see this simply change to make Exam results so much fairer in future.

About Philip Britton

Philip Britton is the Head of Foundation of Bolton School. He was brought up on Tyneside, took a first in physics at Oxford and did teacher training at Cambridge. He worked as physics teacher, Head of Physics and Deputy Head at Leeds Grammar School before moving to Bolton in 2008. In 2010 he was awarded an MBE for services to physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics where he has been much involved in physics education, encouraging teachers to encourage the next generation of physicists. Follow at X: @Philip_Britton | View X/Twitter archive | Listen at: Exploring Bolton School | Social Mobility, Leadership & Future School Thinking | Strategic School Leadership with Philip Britton | Strategic School Leadership with Philip Britton