Insider claims top academy ‘inflated grades’

A flagship academy is facing allegations that teachers inflated their pupils’ GCSE coursework marks in this summer’s English exams. This is from the Independent

A complaint against the Harris Academy Beckenham, in south London, has been lodged with the exams regulator Ofqual claiming that there is a “drastic discrepancy” between the grades awarded for coursework marked internally by teachers – especially for the paper’s speaking and listening section – and the externally marked written exam at the end of the course.

The school is run by the Harris Federation, one of the UK’s most successful academy chains, and often cited by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, as an example in raising standards for others to follow. It is also often called in to act as an official sponsor when a failing school is forced to accept academy status.

In his complaint to Ofqual, the whistle-blower – a teacher who has been close to the school – accuses teachers of “inflating grades in the controlled-assessment area of the crucial English language test to the point that they do not reasonably reflect the ability of the students of a significant section of their year 11 (GCSE group) cohort”.

His analysis of the results shows that 78 of the 132 pupils put in for the exam sat the foundation paper – the easier of the two GCSE papers. Of the 78, 81 per cent gained an A*- to C-grade pass in the internally marked speaking and listening section of the paper compared with just 4 per cent in the externally marked end-of-course writing exam. A third strand of the paper, a writing paper also marked internally, showed that 45 per cent got a top-grade pass.

The teacher’s submission says the results show a “drastic discrepancy” between the outcomes of the internally and externally marked papers. This, he argues “becomes even more extreme when a comparison was made between the outcome of the centre-assessed [school-assessed] speaking and listening grade and the externally assessed exam grade”.

While accepting that some students have English as a second language and may struggle more with the final written exam, he says the discrepancy still exists with those students who do not have English as a second language. “Surely, in the light of the gross discrepancy that has appeared post exam results, all the controlled-assessment written scripts need to be called in and if possible compared to the exam scripts.”

The speaking and listening section of the English GCSE has posed major problems for Ofqual and, as from next June, its marks will no longer count towards the overall GCSE results.

A spokesman for Ofqual said: “I can confirm that we have received allegations about possible malpractice around speaking and listening assessments at this school. We will now be making further inquiries, including asking the relevant exam boards to investigate the claims.”

He added: “We have already taken action to stop speaking and listening assessments for GCSE English counting towards the final grade as there is no way to make sure that they are carried out and marked consistently across all schools and colleges.

“We have also reviewed the wider use of controlled assessment and set out guidance for its role in the future – limited to where it is the most valid form of assessment and can be delivered securely.”

The Harris Academy is understood to strongly contest the whistle-blower’s claims…

More at:  Insider claims top academy ‘inflated grades’

Ofqual are investigating this situation and no doubt more will become clear in due course but it is the latest in a number of similar stories concerning the marking of coursework. Is it wrong that teachers can  be in a position where they can feel under pressure to manipulate marks and does this suggest that coursework, if part of the assessment, needs to be marked or thoroughly checked externally? Please share in the comments or on twitter… 

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Categories: Academies.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Oh dear, more bad academy/free school press. Almost on a weekly basis. League table and Ofsted pressure at heart of it

  2. 5N_Afzal

    I’m sorry. I can’t accept the excuse that Ofsted/league tables mean that teachers feel pressured to cheat! Because that’s what it is. If these stories are correct then teachers cheated. There is no excuse for cheating. Plain and simple.

  3. Mike Bell

    In a system where a school is judged by its GCSE A*-C grades, there is unreasonable pressure on the school to push grades where possible.  Sometimes is takes the form of extra help for the C/D boundary students.
    All students get some coaching in the internal assessment – otherwise they would’t know what to do.  Because there is no clear line between this legitimate coaching and cheating, it is unreasonable to ask teachers to tread this line.

  4. sappg001

    SchoolsImprove Not surprising. As long as the stakes are made this high, it is bound to happen- grade inflation, cheating, all sorts

  5. robcampbe11

    SchoolsImprove I don’t think anyone closely involved in education is surprised by stories like this. Rotten apples spoil whole orchards…

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