Claims that top students were ‘penalised for good answers’ in GCSE language exams

The Times is reporting claims that the highest-achieving girls at a top independent school were marked down for their responses to extended-answer questions in language GCSEs this summer with more basic answers from weaker classmates scoring higher marks…

Fiona Boulton, headmistress of Guildford High School, and Jon Coles, a former director-general for education standards at the Department for Education, conducted the first-ever direct comparison of GCSEs with International GCSEs.

They found that the brightest girls did better at the iGCSE because the GCSE penalised their responses to extended-answer questions, which are meant to give outstanding candidates a chance to shine. Less outstanding candidates did better at these GCSE questions by giving more formulaic answers that examiners could recognise…

At the school, rated sixth in The Times GCSE results table, 138 girls sat dual sets of exams in French, German and Spanish this summer. Against expectations they did better in iGCSEs than in GCSEs, suggesting GCSEs are harder.

When school leaders analysed the results, however, they found their brightest teenagers were the ones who had missed the top grades in GCSE. Twenty seven candidates who achieved an A* in the iGCSE were awarded an A grade in GCSE. This compared with five candidates scoring an A* in the GCSE and an A grade in iGCSE.

Mrs Boulton said: “When we drilled down into the issue, the marking of the controlled assessment paper was erratic at best . . . In the iGCSE, which has more grammar content, they were scoring between 92 and 100 per cent, in the GCSE it was 72 to 80 per cent.”

The iGCSE better rewarded the fluent writing of the most able girls, Mrs Boulton said, while in the GCSE, weaker candidates wrote “more basic sentences that matched the mark scheme so were picking up marks. The idiosyncrasies of language aren’t being rewarded.”…

More at: Students ‘penalised for good answers’ in language exams (subscription required)


If valid, these claims are a pretty damning inditement on the quality of GCSE marking and surely raise questions about the use of longer-answer questions in the new GCSEs.What do you think? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. poachermullen

    SchoolsImprove depends how you define good. Some of our brightest include fab creativity + complexity, but are penalised as accuracy slips.

  2. acet2001

    SchoolsImprove With all the tinkering that has taken place nothing would surprise me regarding inconsistent awarding of grades in all exams

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