Exam board AQA to pay over £1.1m for mistakes, including allowing markers to review own work

AQA fined for damaging public confidence in exam appeals

AQA, the biggest school exam board in England, will pay out over £1.1m for breaking the rules on exam appeals by allowing markers to re-check their own work. This is the largest penalty that Ofqual, the examinations regulator, has ever given since it was established in 2010.

Ofqual also reprimanded AQA for two additional slip-us, finding that it botched the marking scheme for a question in its 2018 French GCSE exam and that it re-used a 2014 specimen paper English literature question in its 2018 GCSE.

Potentially unfair re-marking

AQA’s most significant mistake was allowing exam reviews to be carried out by the original markers, creating a situation where individuals were reviewing their own marking. Ofqual ruled that AQA would have to pay a £350,000 fine as well as refund £735,750 to the schools who paid for students to have their papers reviewed.

Ofqual decided that there wasn’t any evidence that the re-marks were incorrect, so nobody received the wrong grades as a result of the error. However, these were still “serious breaches” as they have “the potential to seriously undermine public confidence” in the appeal process.

Mark Bedlow, AQA’s acting chief executive, promised that this happened as the result of a “technical issue” that has since been fixed.

GCSE French exam paper “not fit for purpose”

AQA was also separately fined £50,000 for its 2018 French GCSE paper, which Ofqual described as “not fit for purpose”. This was because of a problem with its marking scheme; one of the questions asked for a letter as its answer, but the size of the space left enough room to write in the whole word. However, if candidates filled in the whole word, they lost a mark even though it was the correct answer.

Almost identical English literature question used in specimen paper and GCSE exam

Finally, Ofqual reprimanded AQA for repeating a question from a 2014 specimen paper about Ozymandias in its 2018 English literature exam. The question asked the candidate to ‘compare the ways poets present ideas about power in ‘Ozymandias’ and in one other poem from ‘Power and conflict’.

This particular question had been used to demonstrate an exemplar student response, so there were worries that candidates who had seen the specimen paper and response had an unfair advantage.

“This year’s exam season was a mess”

This isn’t the first time this year that an exam board has come under fire. The controversial events of 2019’s exam season included leaked papers, plagiarised questions and off-spec topics. This series of blunders has left students on TSR dismayed and lacking confidence in the process, with TSR member mpaprika specifying “the wrong marking makes me so angry” and TSR member Obolinda concluding that “this year’s exam season was a mess”.

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