Opportunities for improving quality of marking – Ofqual

Ofqual takes the quality of marking of GCSEs, AS and A levels very seriously. Taken by more than a million students every year, we recognise that trust in the results of these qualifications is essential to public confidence. Ofqual writes on GOV.UK 

We have conducted a substantial programme of research over the past 5 years aimed at finding improvements in a system that in many ways already delivers results that are as good as many other systems around the world. Today (Tuesday 27 November), we are discussing 5 new research reports with teachers and education leaders at an event in London that will further understanding of marking in the sector, and how we might work together to drive quality higher in specific areas.

Marking is a complex exercise. It requires exam boards to recruit, train, standardise, and monitor tens of thousands of individuals to review tens of millions of responses each year. Each subject lends itself to being assessed in different ways, from multiple choice questions to long essays, which we know can have a direct effect on marking reliability but also more importantly the learning experience of students in the classroom.

Reformed GCSEs, AS and A levels reflect this trade-off between the absolute reliability of any assessment and the value of qualifications to individuals. The challenge, therefore, is to make marking as good as it can be in every subject, in the context of the style of the assessment. There is not a single, right mark for every answer given in every subject. For many assessments different – but equally legitimate marks – can be awarded for the same answer by expert examiners. Here we expect mark schemes and training to be of high quality. For other assessments, there will be a single right mark. Here we expect the right mark to always be awarded.

Our new research supports these aims by looking at various aspects of the marking process. We will be publishing our research following today’s event, along with results of our recent marker examiner survey. In summary here are 5 findings:

1. Online standardisation

Standardisation of markers can be conducted in different ways. We have looked at the processes involved in online standardisation in particular, and have identified some good practices that could be more consistently adopted to improve the experience and performance of examiners. These include receiving personal feedback by phone after being approved to begin marking and receiving confirmation that they are awarding marks on the same basis (as well as the right mark) as intended. It is also important for examiners to take personal responsibility for ensuring they review any feedback received.

4. Marking consistency metrics – an update

Earlier work has focused on component level marking consistency and found that results in England are comparable to others internationally. This paper reports new qualification level marking metrics, which are shown to be generally higher than those at component level from which they are comprised. And we note that marking consistency remained stable in England between 2013 and 2017. However, this does not mean that improvements cannot be made. In response, the paper considers how minimum acceptable levels of marking consistency might be defined, which would help exam boards to channel additional resource and support. We note that these thresholds would need take into account the subject and/or forms of assessment, but importantly, would need to be understood and accepted by the public.


We have also published the results of a survey of examiners, conducted prior to the summer 2018 series. This survey – which received more than 18,000 responses – gives a picture of the professional background of examiners, as well as their experiences of the examining process. Its findings include:

  • survey respondents had an average of 10 years previous examining experience

  • more than 99% of respondents were current or former teachers

  • the average age of an examiner responding to our survey was 47 years

  • 96% of markers and moderators agreed that they were confident in their ability to mark or moderate accurately and reliably

Read more from Ofqual Opportunities for improving quality of marking – Ofsted

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