Boost my exam marks, please sir – the cat’s been run over

Geraldine Hackett, Education Correspondent

IT’S the dark secret your teacher probably will not tell you. But if you want to pep up your exam marks for that higher grade, arrange an unfortunate accident for the cat.

A dead family pet can prove more beneficial than last-minute revision — as long as the timing is right. A new guide from the country’s leading GCSE and A-level boards discloses that if a kitty perishes on the day of the exam, the candidate can expect to be awarded 2% extra marks in compensation.

The day before is okay but not as good — the candidate is given only 1% extra for a feline fatality on the eve of an exam. And if the death happens to be a few days before, tough luck. Of course, it would be irresponsible to advocate the murder of any pet and nor is it very likely that students would go to such lengths for a few extra marks.

But the examples above are genuine — some say misguided — attempts by the boards to quantify the possible emotional distress of a candidate and make exams fairer.

Yesterday Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, accused the boards of mollycoddling children. “It’s another example of political correctness,” he said. “Obviously the death of a pet is distressing but the idea of compensating over exam marks is ridiculous.”

It is the first time the Joint Council for General Qualifications (JCGQ), the body representing exam boards, has tried to codify how results can be adjusted for candidates’ special circumstances. Previously it was left to boards’ discretion.

However, as leading educationists pointed out last week, the attempt to compensate students in this way has posed a number of ethical questions that would tax even the most learned philosophers. For example, the guidance does not specify what type of animal constitutes a pet. Is the life of a stick insect or goldfish any more valuable than that of a cat or dog? “Do you get extra marks because the hamster or the budgie has snuffed it?” asked Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University.

Not necessarily. But human life is certainly considered more precious by the exam boards. A terminally ill parent or recent family bereavement is worth an extra 5% — the maximum allowed under the “special consideration” policy.

However, a severe car accident or death of a distant relative is not deemed as distressing and therefore merits 4%. A “broken limb on the mend” is the same as the dead cat: 2%. A fresh break, on the other hand, rates alongside a recent domestic crisis and organ disease at 3%.

The JCGQ also considered compensating students for short noise disturbances, such as a fire alarm or a mobile phone, but concluded this would be going a little too far.

More than 300,000 candidates applied for special considerations last year, mostly as a result of illness. The JCGQ leaves it to the schools to verify whether the appeals are genuine.

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