Education Secretary James Cleverley condemned a series of errors in exam papers and background information, calling them “unacceptable”.
A cabinet minister said in a letter published today: “While there were only a small number of significant errors, including those related to previous information, any errors are unacceptable and risk causing unnecessary stress to students who have worked so hard to prepare for their exams.”
It appears to be the first time ministers have been forced to admit such problems with exams this summer, the first in three years since the Covid disruption.
AQA apologized in June after a GCSE physics paper included a question on a topic which was specifically excluded advance information. Edexcel did the same with a GCSE geography error which resulted in Gabon being listed as Democratic Republic of the Congo on the map of Africa.
He highlighted the regulator’s recent pledge to scrutinize the award process to ensure students are “not disadvantaged”. Ofqual will provide a further update after the results are published, he added.
The awarding bodies themselves are “speaking directly” to schools or through their websites to “explain their plans to mitigate any impact of these errors on students”.
He said investigations by Ofqual would “start immediately” – suggesting investigations may have already begun.
But Ofqual usually does not consider regulatory action until the results are published so that exam boards can focus on that. He does not comment on such actions until full investigations and decisions are made, Cleverley added.
But Cleverley said that while there were some “genuine errors”, some of the concerns about the previous information “arising from a misunderstanding of its purpose”, without giving further details.
Fines and harsh words cannot prevent exam problems
In previous years, ministers have spoken out about mistakes by examination boards, threatened and issued fines, but they do not seem to have solved the problem.
Two decades ago, Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair similarly condemned “unacceptable” work Edexcel over a series of errors that triggered the regulator’s review. The 2001 Edexcel Religious Studies AS Level contained questions from practical papers.
A decade later, Conservative schools minister Nick Gibb condemned “unacceptably poor practice” after 11 exam mistakes affected 140,000 pupils. He said new powers to fine exam boards would give them a “powerful incentive” to improve standards and be “an obvious deterrent’.
AQA included an ‘unanswerable’ question in the 2017 Biology papers. Two years later it is was fined £350,000 – the biggest fine in Ofqual’s history – for “serious breaches” of re-marking rules.