Unfairness and the huge potential consequence of incorrect examination grades

The financial cost of re-marking

Whilst I find it difficult to understand the solution being proposed by OFQUAL – which is to make it more difficult to challenge exam grades, I’m also not too sure about a £10m fund, as I feel that, in the end the number of challenges to grades will keep rising and £10m will be grossly insufficient in the long run. Figures published in the teachers’ magazine – the TES last Friday indicates that it cost a school £34 for each unsuccessful appeal to re-mark an exam script. The cumulative cost of unsuccessful challenges by schools over a five-year period is £166.6m.


The more costly consequence of incorrect exam grades

For most parents and indeed schools who challenge exam results, the cost of £34 is what I guess, is not considered to be too dear. They consider it a price worth paying for ensuring that justice has been done and the grade awarded to their child or student is correct and fair. There is a much bigger picture here, which is the continuing erosion of confidence in the whole examination system. This once again highlights the gap between the well-off and the poorer people in society.

An independent school like Haberdasher’s, not only can afford to pay the cost of re-marking the scripts and risk not being successful in challenging the results, it also has the calibre of staff and parents who will do all they can to ensure that fairness has taken place for little Jonny (the child). in his English exam. For many poor people and in most state schools, the teachers and the parents will just accept the grade their young person has been awarded without bothering to challenge the results. Even in cases where parents are willing to pay for the re-mark, some schools are strongly against asking for a re-mark for all sort if reasons – which only they can explain. The cost in terms of lifetime opportunity for a student who is wrongly awarded a low exam grade can be huge. We all know that the top exam grades are required by the top universities and there is a direct link between the university a person attends and their chances of a highly lucrative career.


How should we tackle unfairness in marking exam papers?

The whole mess surrounding re-marking and grade changes provides an argument for those who favour coursework in place of written examination to argue for why there should be more coursework. I personally disagree. I deem coursework to be a fraud – which favours middleclass people, who can afford to pay private tutors to help their little Jane or John to game the system. I consider coursework to be more unfair than examinations and that it does not reward academic brilliance, or allow for a selection of the best candidates for higher education.


You know what you get when you pay peanuts!

There is a saying that goes “you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” Currently, exam markers are paid about £4 for each exam script they mark, which I personally do not know whether it is reasonable or not. I certainly will not want to mark examination papers but at the same time, I have real admiration for teaching colleagues who mark exam papers. Many teachers who are marking exam scripts are not doing it just for the money. The experience and the expertise they develop as markers is often passed onto their students, which in turn helps the students to improve their exam technique. I do not think that the notion of paying peanuts and getting monkeys applies in this particular case.


My suggestion to this whole issue is that a lot more resources should be devoted to ensure that the examination marking procedure is a lot fairer and restores confidence in the whole system. Judging by the importance of examinations and the potential consequences of getting it wrong to the young person involved, something ought to be done to improve the marking procedure and to ensure it is fairer and the grades awarded reflect a more true representation of the student’s ability and skills he or she has demonstrated in a particular examination.


Money and time

I believe that, in addition to the willingness on the part of the government and the regulatory body, there are two other resources that are likely to be required: money and time.

If allowing more time between when students take the examination and the exam results being released will help to make it fairer, the academic year should be structured in a way that exams are taken a little earlier in the academic year. As for money, I am someone who believes that the government should not just be throwing money at things because it does not usually work well when they do that. However, I think this is an important matter and it ought to be looked into more carefully and more resources should be allocated if that would help. The money does not necessarily have to come from the taxpayers. Most parents are prepared to pay for this and in cases where the parents are so poor, they should receive some sort of support from the state. The government can pay for this via the school by allocating a certain amount to schools for this purpose. I still think the school ought to play a major role in deciding if they ask for a re-mark. There will have to be checks and balances in place to ensure fairness and for the school, to not have any reason to act in a way in which it will incur financial losses or make financial gain as a result of the decision it makes, on whether or not to ask for a re-mark of a particular exam script.

In my next and final blog, I will be offering practical advice to parents and students on how to minimise the chances of being awarded low grade. Please watch this space.


Below is a link to the first blog: