It’s no secret that students want to get through exams with good marks.  Teachers are in the same position too – after all, there is a lot of motivation for them to have classes full of bright sparks, all attaining results far higher than their predicted grades could ever imagine.


Some methods of ensuring this aren’t even in the slightest bit controversial.  Half of that simply comes down to being a good teacher who knows how to get the best from children, someone who can inspire and lead.  There are lots of determining factors for the grades that kids get predicted, but the true measure of a teacher is if they exceed expectations – they’ve all been striving to achieve greater heights.

Well, so it seems.  In recent time we’ve seen something rather interesting – this is the clever use of tactics to ensure that if things don’t go quite right, everything can be sorted out rather easily.  The trouble is, what happens and why do they do it?

The obvious forms of cheating

I’ve previously written about the theories and practices of teachers cheating for the students and introduced you all to the study in Freakonomics.  I wrote that back last August and it was published a few months later.  More recently, we found that the annual figures on teacher behaviour showed that the rate of teacher malpractice had soared 62% in one year to 97 cases for last summer’s exams.  Whilst this was lower than the 2011 level, it does show there’s something going on that has to be addressed.  Students have cheated too, ever since there was a motivation to do so – 2,590 cases in the summer exam period.

Clearly the motivation for both teachers and students to cheat revolves around the pressure of schools and futures – the same could be said for both groups of people.  Students need to get on with their life (whatever they choose to get on with) and teachers have school headteachers breathing down their necks to ensure things are going smoothly for the school.  Incentives for good teachers and penalties for ‘failing’ ones leads to only one conclusion: this is purely reputational.  Of course, I could be less cynical and say that they care for students… but then again the shear amount of data they use in promotional material with regards to results clearly shows a desire to appear to be a good school.

With the reputational aspect of exam results in life, it didn’t surprise me to see the latest offering into exam-result tactics employed by schools.  Now, I must say right off that these are perfectly ‘legal’ and within the rules so I think we ought to consider the system too… Let us be reasonable about it!


At the same time the latest figures on teacher malpractice were uncovered, it came to light the amount of requests put in ‘special consideration’ – extra marks, to put it bluntly.

  • 347,000 request for ‘special consideration’ were approved, and around only 10% were rejected.
  • The total number of requests had jumped by 13% from the previous year, to a total of 415,200.
  • The most common adjustment made was an increase of 3% of the total maximum mark.

The extra marks can be awarded if it is agreed that the candidate is at a significant disadvantage.  More often than not it’s for something unexpected, such as illness or bereavement.

For example, if a student has suffered a loss in the family, the maximum award can be 5% of the total.  For a ‘minor illness on the day’, it is generally around 2%.  There were also a further 209,000 extra special cases for known medical conditions or disability.

Now, at no point am I considering the facts here to be false or untrue.  However, does it not appear that, as the pressure on schools to perform rises, the number of requests has slowly risen too? Also, if you consider that exam results have generally been improving year on year… Perhaps schools are putting in more and more requests to ensure that they’re getting the best possible marks?

Of course, if the students are putting in more and more work then that’s great.  However, look at it logically… If there are more people needing special consideration and yet the exam results are getting higher, you do wonder if the school are putting them in with the kid’s interests at heart.

Consider also that the rate of improvement in grades in the core subjects hasn’t been improving by 3% (the most common rise under the term ‘special consideration’) and then you have to wonder if some schools are using it to prop up lowering expectations and higher demands, all whilst keeping a reputation.

Exam appeals

One thing that got on my nerves about all of this was that reading schools are putting in ‘tactical’ appeals on marks.  The tactical nature of it concerns when the school decide to appeal – according to Ofqual (the exam regulator in the UK) – focuses around where a grade is considered to be close to grade boundary.  Seems fair, but I can remember at GCSE and A Level being persuaded not to appeal on marks where where I was right in the middle of a bracket.

Meanwhile, if I was on near the top?  Of course, Mike – you go for it!

This appears to be in the interests of the student – that is until you see where the appeals are focussed on.  Mainly they are to be bound on the C/D border at GCSE.  Remember that schools frequently measure their success on the number of students who obtain grade Cs at school… That goes into the promotional material, all right.

At A Level?  It’s at the A/B border.  Of course, that’s to the benefit to the student, since universities love A grades.  Then again, students going to top universities always makes for gread press for the school.

Maybe I’m being cynical, but this does seem all a little odd.  Requests for support up meaning above average increases and appeals that definitely don’t represent fair opportunities for students.  Strange.



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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.