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Open letter to Ofqual.

Download letter here.  Downoad signing sheet here.


v.4 to Chair of Ofqual    19-Jan-12  

An open letter to the Chair of Ofqual and the Chief Executives of exam boards

January 2012

 There are a number of ongoing and new serious concerns regarding marking and grading of public examinations in Modern Languages; we urge that action be taken to address these concerns.

 Process: We are appreciative that the Minister for Schools and the Chief Executive of Ofqual have both met with representatives of ALL and ISMLA to discuss the concerns and clarify potential actions.  We are aware of the differing responsibilities of Government & DfE, Ofqual and the individual examination boards, and the sensitivity of the matters under consideration, especially in the light of recent events, and the ongoing House of Commons Inquiry.  The Board of Ofqual has a responsibility for standards (see “Longer-term”) and the examination boards have the freedom to act on our proposals for immediate action (see “Immediate steps”), which would be encouraged by supporting guidance from Ofqual.



Although severe grading in Modern Languages, especially at GCSE, was identified as a major concern and impediment by the Dearing Review in 2006, confirmed by a QCA report in 2008 and one of the topics in the Ofqual Inter-subject comparability seminar in October 2008, no concrete action has been taken to make the tiny adjustments to the raw mark / grade boundary links to bring ML in line with the other EBacc subjects such as Maths, Science and History and Geography.

 We urge that a commitment to review the historical anomaly and bring ML grading into line with other EBacc subjects is included in the Ofqual programme of work.


Immediate steps

The following specific steps are all achievable, command widespread support and would contribute to greater confidence in the examination system.  The key principle behind the proposals is that of transparency, a principle which the Government has already put into practice in several areas.

 We are aware that in each of these proposals, there will be technical and confidentiality issues, but these can and should be addressed in consultation with relevant representatives.  

1)     Transparency in the process of determining the grade boundaries for individual papers and then to an overall grade (GCSE and AS/A2)

i.e. given the raw marks produced each year by the markers, the decision-making process through which those raw marks are converted to UMS for each paper, and thus to an overall grade

    Possible measures:

·         a school representative at the main grading meeting

·         publication of borderline examples

·         publication of data re: distribution of marks (including prior attainment)

      And thus as outcome:

·         an informed person should be able to read and understand why grade boundaries were set as they were each year


In particular, we would wish Ofqual and the exam boards to be explicit regarding any technical constraints, and that there is clarity re process / decision-making where there has been a change from one year to the next e.g. in specification / format of exam etc.  For example, this transparency should enable an understanding of the discrepancy in the percentage of A* awarded at A2 when compared with similar subjects with a high percentage of A grades.

 2)     Transparency re: criteria (esp in A2 orals) and the process of marking

The unpredictable grading in ML oral exam has been a concern in recent years.  Specific information should be made available about how boards differentiate between pre-learned material and genuine fluency identified and in what way this affects grading.


Signing sheet


An Open Letter to the Chair of Ofqual and the Chief Executives of exam boards


We, the undersigned, urge that action be taken to address the ongoing and new serious concerns regarding marking and grading of public examinations in Modern Languages, as described in the Open Letter of January 2012.