GCSE and A-levels: Mistakes in papers caused ‘pupil distress’, Ofqual sayson June 17, 2022 at 9:02 pm

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Exam boards have apologised for mistakes in this year’s A-level and GCSE papers.

Pupil in distressImage source, Getty Images

An exam board has been criticised by the watchdog for including topics in this year’s GCSE and A-level exams that pupils were told would not come up.

In England, students have been given more detail than usual about what to revise because of pandemic disruption.

But an A-level law and GCSE physics paper included topics not listed in the so-called “advance information”.

Watchdog Ofqual said the mistake caused “distress” for pupils. AQA has apologised for the error.

On Friday, AQA said sorry to A-level law students for the “confusion and stress” after questions on nuisance were included in their paper, despite there being no advance warning that the subject would be included in the exam.

The exam board has not yet announced how the question will be marked.

“The fairest way to address this is for us to look at how students performed on this paper after we’ve marked it, and we’ll take any action necessary to protect them,” a spokesperson for AQA said.

Coralie Foster, from Bolton, said her daughter was “more angry than upset” at the surprise question in the A-Level law paper on Monday.

She added: “Nowadays these university offers are so high – so the pressure on these kids to get the top grades is immense,” she said.

“Advance information was meant to help focus that work, but it’s all been completely undermined.”

‘Disappointed and disadvantaged’

Last week AQA apologised for a question on energy transfers and circuits that appeared in a GCSE physics paper. Circuits had not been included as a topic for revision in the advance information.

The board said it would give all students full marks for that question.

GCSE student Eddie, from Greater Manchester, took the physics paper on 9 June, and said he was “disappointed” with AQA’s response.

“I don’t know how they could make a mistake like that,” he said.

He said awarding full marks had rectified the error “somewhat”, but believes it will not fully account for the students who spent extra time trying to answer the unexpected question.

“Pupils came home upset, disappointed and disadvantaged. It’s just thrown a lot of spanners into the works,” he said.

Speaking to the Confederation of School Trusts’ annual conference on Friday, Jo Saxton – Ofqual’s chief regulator – said the idea of providing advance information to help students prepare for exams had “taken the stress off of [pupils’] shoulders”.

But she added: “They love the idea of the advance information, but the reality is they found navigating it, in many cases, just one other thing to think about.

“I absolutely understand the distress that mistakes in advance information and exam papers cause.”

In 2020 and 2021, students were graded based on assessments made by their teachers, with exams cancelled in order to reduce the spread of Covid.

Under the teacher assessments, more students passed exams and achieved higher marks, with record numbers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland securing top A-level grades.

Although grades will be awarded normally this year, grade boundaries will be more lenient in England, Scotland and Wales. They will be set at a “mid-point” between the 2019 pre-pandemic boundaries and the grade levels used in teacher assessments in 2021.

However, much of the support for exams this year will be scrapped in 2023.

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