Congratulations to GSCE students (shame about the wrong grades)

Posted on August 25 2022

Congratulations to GSCE students (shame about the wrong grades) - Canbury Press

25th August 2022

Dennis Sherwood, author of Missing the Mark, comments on today's release of GCSE results in England

I’m writing this shortly after the announcement of this year’s school exam
results, and yes, it is absolutely right that the mood is celebratory.

Especially after the turmoil of recent times, students should indeed rejoice
in their achievements.

Yet, hovering above the general joy is a dark cloud.

Grades are hugely unreliable.

Here are some statistics you won’t find reported in the media, let alone on
the websites of the authorities such as the exam regulator Ofqual, and the
Department for Education.

  • About 200,000 of this year’s A level grades were wrong, about 100,000 too high, 100,000 too low.
  • About 15,000 AS grades were wrong, about 7,500 too high, 7,500 too low.
  • About 1.3 million GCSE grades were wrong, about 650,000 too high, 650,000 too low.

But no-one knows which grades, in which subjects, ‘awarded’ to  which candidates. And even if a candidate does fear that a grade is wrong, except in some very limited circumstances, there is no right of appeal. So the candidate is stuck with that wrong grade. For ever. This does immense harm.

Here is something else too:

  •  For every 10 candidates sitting 8 GCSE subjects, only about 1 will receive certificate on which all 8 grades are right, and about 9 will receive a certificate on which at least 1 grade is wrong.

As I’ve already mentioned, grades are hugely unreliable, but the degree of
unreliability varies by subject. This table shows my estimates of how many
wrong grades have just been awarded for most of the mainstream subjects:

My estimates of the numbers of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ grades awarded for the summer 2022 school exams in England:

My estimates of the numbers of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ grades awarded for the summer 2022 school exams in England

For each of the subjects shown, the first column shows Ofqual’s measure of
the reliability of that subject’s grades – this being the probability that a script in that subject will be awarded what Ofqual call the ‘definitive’ or ‘true’ grade, as would be awarded were that same script to be marked by a senior examiner.

The candidate numbers are as to be found in the authoritative JCQ statistics , and the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ columns are my estimates of the numbers of candidates awarded the ‘definitive’ grade, or not. The figures shown in those columns are of spurious precision; as estimates, they should be thought of as rounded to, say, the nearest thousand.

To me, this is a tragedy. Countless numbers of students are damaged.

But what makes this tragedy even more tragic is the fact that Ofqual have
known about this problem for years (since at least 2016), but have failed to fix it – despite the Chief Regulator being on the record as admitting that exam grades “are reliable to one grade either way”, despite Ofqual’s statutory obligation to “secure a reliable indication of knowledge, skills and understanding”.

Surely grades “reliable to one grade either way” are nowhere near reliable

Until this is fixed, every certificate should show, in BIG LETTERS:


Dennis Sherwood’s latest book, Missing the Mark: Why So Many School Exam
Grades Are Wrong and How to Get Results We Can Trust, has just been published by Canbury Press.

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