Teachers have hit back after the exams regulator claimed they were guilty of significantly over-marking papers amid pressure to produce good results.
Teenagers were let down this summer by an exam system that is abused by teachers, Ofqual said in a new report into the GCSE English fiasco. Chief regulator Glenys Stacey laid blame for the debacle on intense pressure on schools to reach certain targets, which led to over-marking, as well as poorly designed exams and too much emphasis on work marked by teachers.
But teaching unions reacted angrily to the suggestion of deliberate over-marking, arguing that teachers should not be made scapegoats. Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said that schools are judged on their pupils' performance in GCSE English, and called for a re-think on how schools are held accountable.
"It is a diversion to attempt to blame teachers for following the rules they were given," he said. "If your elected government tells you this is the right thing to do, if your performance is measured on it and if you are sacked for failing to achieve it, you have no choice but to do it.
"Our punitive and single-minded focus on C grade exam passes does indeed deserve a share of the blame for this summer's re-grading fiasco. It amplified the effects. The way we hold schools accountable has distorted, degraded and at times corrupted our examination system.
"In particular, the crude focus on a single summary statistic (the percentage of five A*-Cs) has forced the profession to concentrate on hitting that benchmark because of the dire consequences of failing to achieve that magic number."
Teachers were "not to blame for the grading shambles surrounding the exam and they should not be made scapegoats for the system," the NAHT said.
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said it was "outrageous" to suggest that teachers and schools were to blame, adding that Ofqual is responsible for ensuring "fairness and accuracy" in the system.
An initial report by Ofqual concluded that some of January's assessments were "graded generously" but the June boundaries were properly set and candidates' work properly graded. Publishing a second report into the fiasco, Ms Stacey said: "We have been shocked by what we have found. Children have been let down. It's clear that children are increasingly spending too much time jumping through hoops rather than learning the real skills they need in life."
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union said: "Ofqual's report has highlighted the poisonous relationship between the qualifications system and the accountability regime. This is at the heart of the controversy. The accountability system is not fit for purpose and places unacceptable pressure on schools. If it were fit for purpose we would not be having this debate."