GCSE English Literature exam paper error – Friday 26 May 2017

This week I report on the error in a GCSE English Literature exam paper, the release of the first part of the 2015/16 absence statistics and an analysis of teacher supply, retention and mobility data from 2011 to 2015.

English GCSE exam error admitted by board
One of the country’s biggest examination boards, OCR, has admitted to an error in today’s English Literature GCSE exam, taken by around 14,000 students. The mistake related to a question on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in which the family background of a key character, Tybalt, was mixed up. The question suggested he was a Montague when in fact he was a Capulet.

The examination board has apologised and in a statement said that it would put things right when the exam was marked and graded so no student needed to worry about being disadvantaged. An investigation will be taking place as a matter of urgency to see how this error got through their assurance processes.

Absence statistics for 2015/16 academic year
On 18 May, the Department for Education (DFE) released information on the absence rates in schools for the 2016 autumn term. Whilst the overall absence rate had risen slightly from 4.1% to 4.3%, with illness remaining the most common cause of absence, unauthorised absence for holidays has also made a significant contribution to the rise. The percentage of pupils who missed at least one session due to an unauthorised family holiday, rose from 4.2% to 5.0%.

This is the first set of absence statistics since the landmark decision by the High Court ruled in favour of the Isle of Wight parent that had challenged the regulations forbidding term-time absences for pupils except in ‘exceptional’ circumstances. A further appeal from the Government resulted in this decision being overruled and the DfE has said it is too soon to draw links between the High Court ruling and the unauthorised absence rate.

Report analysing teacher supply, retention and mobility
Yesterday the DfE released an analysis of teacher supply, retention and mobility data from 2011 to 2015. Key findings included:

  • More teachers were leaving the profession – the teacher wastage rate (those who are either leaving the profession, retiring or going on maternity leave) increased in every subject, of which the overall rate went from 6.6% to 8.7%.  Physics, where graduates with a first-class degree are now offered £30,000 tax-free bursaries to train in, had either the highest or second highest wastage rate in each year between 2011 and 2015.
  • The EBacc has caused a slump in new Drama teachers – entrant rates increased in every EBacc subject except Biology, where the rate fell by 0.1%. However, the biggest drops were found in non-EBacc subjects, mainly in Drama which had a 1.4% decrease.
  • The most newly-qualified teachers (NQT) were in EBacc subjects – whilst the overall number of NQTs remained relatively stable the rate was highest in Maths, English and the sciences and ‘core’ EBacc subjects – classics and History.
  • Teachers on permanent contracts were most likely to stay in the profession – teachers and leaders with permanent contracts had higher retention rates, both in school and in the system. Retention rates also increased with age and experience were higher outside London and in schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.
  • Most teachers stay within commuting distance when moving schools – around 70.0% of all teachers who moved between 2010 and 2014 moved 25 kilometres or less. Secondary teachers were more likely to move a greater distance than primary teachers, and men were slightly more likely than women to move a greater distance, but the variation was likely to be because primary teachers were disproportionately female.