This politicisation of public examinations must not be allowed to happen

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13 August 2015 by Jill Stokoe
On Sunday, schools minister Nick Gibb is reported to have expressed ‘greatest concern’ in response to Ofqual’s report on OCR’s problems in marking exam papers in time last summer.

Apparently, ministers are so angry about the findings that they are considering scrapping AQA, OCR, Edexcel and WJEC, the awarding organisations (AOs) that deliver the general qualifications (GQs) and replacing them with a single government body.

Quite how they could do this is a bit of a mystery as a buy-out would cost potentially millions of pounds.

Another possible option being considered is a system that uses one AO for each subject.  Aside from issues around restrictive trade practices, how would risk then be spread?

The Joint Council for Qualifications has said that, “the current system provides schools, colleges and learners with choice in terms of qualification content and delivery”. This is obviously true.

There is also a question about fairness if the AOs that provide GQs were to lose these qualifications and those markets, when the other 180 recognised AOs would remain untouched.

The minister has questioned whether it makes sense to have three or four AOs competing for a £300 million market share among schools and colleges, saying that, “We now have commercial or quasi-commercial organisations that are increasingly revenue-driven”.

This has been the case for many years, has the DfE really just spotted this?

And if, as the DfE said, “This government is raising standards with a rigorous new curriculum and world-class exams that equip every child with the skills and knowledge they need to reach their full potential” , why dismantle the whole GQ system?

The suggestion that government could produce the exam papers is very worrying, and the idea that these could be delivered by the Standards and Testing Agency (STA), is frankly nonsense.

Whilst STA is an experienced developer of maths, English and Science test papers, it has no track record whatsoever of developing any of the other subjects offered at GCSE and A level or of developing qualifications at levels 2 and 3.

New GCSE, AS and A level qualifications are about to begin roll-out next month, with more coming on-stream in 2016, then 2017.  This proposal to reform the AOs at this critical stage of massive, untested qualification reform is a hugely disproportionate response by Government and demonstrates its determination to blatantly interfere with GQs as it did with the new national curriculum.

This politicisation of public examinations must not be allowed to happen.

Jill Stokoe is an education policy adviser for ATL.

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