The number of GCSE and A-level papers awarded extra marks rose this year, in the wake of major exam changes and pupils being affected by tragic summer events including the Manchester terror attack and the Grenfell fire.
Official new figures show a hike in both the number of requests for “special consideration” due to students facing exceptional circumstances, and the number approved.
In total, there were 607,110 requests made to exam boards from schools and colleges in England relating to this summer’s GCSE and A-levels – up 19% on the previous year.
Of these, the vast majority – 567,795 (94% of requests) were granted – up 18% on 2016.
Three tragedies occurred within a month this summer, beginning with the Manchester bombing at an Ariana Grande concert on May 22, followed by the terror attack on London Bridge on June 3 and then the Grenfell Tower fire in west London on June 14.
Many young people were caught up in the events, particularly the Manchester attack and the Grenfell fire, at a time when they were preparing for, and sitting, important qualifications.
In the wake of the tragedies, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents awarding bodies, announced that it was lowering the proportion of a course students must have completed to apply for ”special consideration” from 40% to 25%.
At the time, JCQ said the recent tragic events, as well as a move towards pupils taking all exams at the end of their two-year courses, had led to it reviewing the system.
In a report on Wednesday, England’s exams regulator Ofqual said that there were a number of factors that could have influenced the number of special consideration requests made.
“Previously, affected candidates were required to have taken a minimum 40% of the assessment in order for either a mark adjustment or qualification award to be applied to the candidate’s final grade.
“According to JCQ guidance, from summer 2017 a student must have completed at least 25% of the assessment to be eligible for special consideration.
“This was partly in response to the move to linear qualifications and partly in response to tragic events that took place this year, leading to awarding organisations reviewing and lowering the requirement.”
Other factors include the move away from “modular” exams taken throughout courses towards end-of-course exams, which means there is no longer any opportunity for pupils to re-sit papers.
A move to end-of-course exams and tragic events of summer 2017 could have had an impact on the figures, it was suggested. (Rick Findler/PA)
Under the current system, pupils can be awarded up to an extra 5% of the maximum mark on a paper, usually due to an illness, injury or other circumstances that had an impact on their performance in an exam.
The maximum 5% is usually given only in the most exceptional cases, such as terminal illness of the student or a member of their immediate family, the very recent death of a close family member or a very serious and disruptive domestic crisis.
More commonly, pupils are awarded fewer extra marks for less serious issues, such as a recently-broken limb, an illness on exam day or circumstances outside of their control on the day of an exam.
Suzanne O’Farrell, curriculum and assessment specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “A number of factors are responsible for the increase in special consideration requests. These include large-scale changes to the exam system which mean GCSEs and A-levels are now sat almost entirely over a short period of time in the summer with more papers in some qualifications and without the opportunity to retake elements if a student is ill or suffers any other sort of problem.
“It is likely that some requests have been in respect of students who were affected by the series of tragic events which took place this summer – the Manchester Arena bombing, the London Bridge attack and the Grenfell Tower fire. We welcome the fact that the exam system is flexible enough to be able to take account of such appalling incidents so that young people are not disadvantaged in exams which are very important for their future.”