Ben HaywardOctober 15th

The AQA - the UK’s biggest exam board - has been ordered to pay out over £1.1m in fines and compensation. 

Regulator, Ofqual, has imposed the financial punishment after finding AQA had breached various rules in the marking of both GCSE and A-level exams that 'could seriously undermine public confidence in the qualifications system'.

The penalty represents the largest fine ever imposed by Ofqual after 50,000 appeals for exam papers to be reviewed or re-marked between 2016 and 2018 were carried out by AQA employees who had already marked the same papers.

Further fines were levied for cases of ‘faulty exam design’ which led to students receiving lower grades than they should have and, most significantly, Ofqual found that AQA had overlooked internal warnings dating back to 2016, failing to alert the regulator that re-marks were sometimes carried out by the same people who conducted the initial marking.

According to The Guardian, AQA will have to pay a £350,000 fine and provide compensation of £755,000 to the exam centres affected by the reviews or re-marks, as well as paying the costs of the Ofqual investigation.

Ofqual said: “These were serious breaches of conditions that are integral to the effectiveness and purpose of the system of reviewing marking and moderation.

“The failures therefore have the potential to seriously undermine public confidence in the review of marking, moderation and appeals system, and the qualifications system more generally.”

The investigation found that the exam board had failed to employ an appropriate workforce to deal with the appeals process, with figures showing  that AQA gained £217,000 from fees paid for the affected appeals, while also saving over £450,000 through lower staff and compliance expenses.

AQA’s acting chief executive, Mark Bedlow, said: “Reviews of marking are only carried out by our best, most experienced examiners who are very unlikely to have made mistakes in their original marking – and, in the vast majority of cases, we’re talking about one isolated, anonymised answer from a paper being reviewed by the senior examiner who originally marked it.

“But reviews should always be carried out by a fresh pair of eyes and we’re sorry that, for a small proportion in the past, this wasn’t the case.”AQA also received a £50,000 fine after markers penalised candidates who wrote the correct words, rather than the corresponding letter, in a French A-level exam paper in 2018.

The 135 affected candidates were later awarded higher grades, and AQA contacted Ucas to ensure students did not miss out on university places.

However, Ofqual criticised the exam board for describing its response as a ‘goodwill gesture’, saying it had missed a number of opportunities to correct the mistakes.

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