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Exam board slapped with £175k penalty over Romeo and Juliet mix-up

The number of GCSE drama students in England has fallen by 4%. Photo: Wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock OCR conceded that the way the question was phrased made it "unanswerable". Photo: Wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock
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An exam board is being fined £175,000 after incorrectly wording a question about Romeo and Juliet in its GCSE English paper.

OCR has been handed the fine by exam regulator Ofqual after an error was identified in 2017’s English paper, which was sat by 14,261 pupils. Of these, between 4,000 and 5,000 answered questions on the play.

The paper wrongly attributed the character Tybalt to the Montague family when it asked: “How does Shakespeare present the ways in which Tybalt’s hatred of the Capulets influences the outcome of the play?” Tybalt is a Capulet.

Following the exam on May 26, 2017, OCR was contacted by a school that had noticed the error. This prompted the Ofqual investigation. The mistake had been present since the first draft of the paper and OCR conceded that it made the question “unanswerable”.

The error prompted comments from students on social media at the time of the exam last year. OCR has now been fined £175,000 in order to “meet the requirements of deterrence and public confidence”.

Ofqual’s report says that the error is likely to have a “serious adverse impact on public confidence in qualifications”, particularly because it occurred during a “flagship” qualification.

The report also suggests that pupils who had prepared to answer a question on Romeo and Juliet and had favoured learning about the play over other areas would have been most affected.