The Perfect Crime

Posted on November 09 2022

The Perfect Crime - Canbury Press


The perfect crime.

What does it look like?

Imagine, for example, that you are working on that crime novel you’ve always
wanted to write (or maybe I’m just projecting my own wishful thinking!). What
would be the key features of that perfect crime?

How about a crime which
* claims huge numbers of victims…
* …but victims who don’t know that they are victims…
* …so they don’t report the crime to the police…
* …so the police don’t arraign the perpetrator…
* …leaving the perpetrator scot-free…
* …to commit the crime again…
* …and again, and again and…

To make matters even worse, even if some victims might fear they are victims,
suppose that there is no recourse to justice too.

Yes, that surely is the perfect crime indeed.

It turns out that this crime is not the plot of the novel-I’ve-been-longing-to-write,
but a real crime that happened throughout the 2010s, and again, this summer,

And it’s a crime associated with an event with which we are all very familiar. School exams – GCSEs, ASs and A-levels.

Let me explain.

Every year, school students aged 16, 17, and 18 take their GCSE, AS and A level
exams, and receive their results expressed as grades. In summer 2022, for
example, the numbers of grades awarded in England were 5,219,550 (GCSE),
61,354 (AS) and 776,625 (A level) – about 6 million in total.

And of those 6 million, about 1.5 million – yes, 1.5 MILLION, 1 in 4 – were WRONG, where “wrong” means that the grades, as shown on the candidates’ certificates, would have been different had the corresponding scripts been marked by a senior examiner, whose mark, and hence grade, is “definitive” or “true”.

Wrong grades do immense damage. How many students are denied a life changing opportunity for want of a single grade? How many young people lose self confidence – or worse – because the grade they were ‘awarded’ is erroneously lower than they had hoped, and indeed merit?

That’s the crime. The ‘award’ of 1.5 million wrong grades. Every year.

And what makes the crime ‘perfect’ is the fact that, when the student is told ‘History, Grade B’, how can the student know whether that grade is right or wrong? The truth is that the student can’t. Nor can the teacher. Nor can the parent. The grade has to be taken on trust – which is fine if the grades are intrinsically trustworthy. But they are not. 1 grade in every 4 is wrong.

You might be thinking, “but the student can always appeal, and get the script re-

But no – not since 2016, when the exam regulator Ofqual deliberately closed that door. What you can get now is, technically, a ‘review of marking’, which checks compliance with the ‘mark scheme’ to determine if any ‘marking errors’ have been made. If a ‘marking error’ is discovered, the script can be re-marked, but if there are no ‘marking errors’, the original mark – and grade – stand even if a senior examiner would have given that same script a different, perhaps higher, mark, and hence grade.

Even before Ofqual changed the rules for appeals in 2016, the number of grades actually challenged was tiny, as compared to the number of grading errors: in 2015, for example, more than 7 million grades were awarded in England, of which fewer than 500,000 were appealed, and only about 85,000 grades were changed. But in fact, the total number of wrong grades awarded was more than 1.75 million.

So there you have it.

The perfect crime.

A crime which claims about 1.5 million victims every year; victims who don’t know they’re victims; and even if they did, there is no recourse to justice. So the perpetrator – the exam regulator Ofqual – is never held to account, and so commits the same crime year after year, as happened in the 2010s, and again in 2022, and as will happen in 2023 and beyond.

Unless, that is, the perpetrator can be arraigned.

Which you can help do. If you think this crime should be stopped, kick up a fuss!


Dennis Sherwood’s book, Missing the Mark: Why So Many School Exam Grades Are Wrong and How to Get Results We Can Trust, is available right now!

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