Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Exam board errors cost students places at university

23 Feb 2011

An inquiry into mistakes made by one of England\'s largest exam boards laid the blame on failures with the company\'s online marking system.

And the awarding body was criticised for its delay in reporting the problem to exams regulators.

Isabel Nisbet, chief executive of the exams regulator Ofqual, which led the inquiry, said the failings by AQA were \'\'very disappointing.\'\'

Errors occurred when a failure with AQA\'s online system meant that not all of students\' material was marked, the inquiry found.

In total, some 3,353 GCSE and A-level pupils were given the wrong marks.

Of these, 622 students were given the wrong grades, including 146 A-level students.

Ofqual said that the university admissions service, Ucas, had confirmed that while the majority of A-level students were unaffected, in 11 cases students were offered places at their second choice university, or placed through clearing, rather than their first choice.

A further two students failed to find places at all.

Ms Nisbet said: \'\'The failings by AQA identified by this inquiry are very disappointing, especially as they led to some candidates missing out on their first choice of university or course.

\'\'Factors that contributed to the marking error included limited piloting of the new on-screen marking system, a lack of effective risk assessments and deficiencies in the role and training of examiners on the new system.\'\'

Speaking when the failings were made public last October, AQA chief executive Andrew Hall apologised for the errors and admitted he was \'\'concerned\'\' that the problems could have affected students.

The inquiry found that according to evidence, awarding bodies normally inform exam regulators of incidents as soon as they occur, even if the scale of the problem is not known.

In this case, Ofqual said it could have \'\'reasonably expected\'\' AQA to have notified it on September 17, when the failures were first discovered.

But the report adds: \'\'The delay in notifying the regulators, and notifying Ucas after the clearing process had closed on September 20 2010, limited the opportunity for these organisations to consider any possible actions that might mitigate the impact of the failure on candidates.

\'\'However, AQA states that its priority was first to ascertain the scale of the failure, and the individual candidates affected, in order for the appropriate practical support to be provided for those candidates.\'\'

The inquiry has made a number of recommendations to AQA and an action plan is to be revised to address these, to ensure the failings are not repeated.

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