Exam system reform, was there ever really a ‘Golden age’?

At this time of year the exam system in England gets more media attention than is warranted or probably healthy.

Therefore we thought it timely to reflect and share themes emerging from a robust, but altogether mature and considered debate, on the future of the industry that took place just a few weeks ago:

Westminster education forum

Over 100 industry professionals debating current and futures challenges

At the event, top and tailed by Professor Rob Coe of CEM and The Chief Regulator, Gleny’s Stacey, and organised by the Westminster Education Forum, over 100 industry professionals met to debate current plans and possible future requirements for reform of the English exam system.

Purpose, comparability and a level playing field

There were excellent contributions from all speakers and from the floor. Formally we were there to discuss marking; exam board publisher relations; malpractice and industry economics. Edifying was the breadth of perspectives, from high level policy, to experiences at the coal face and flowing from the debate where other key themes that the regulator Glenys Stacey helpfully summarised  as:

  • Purpose – A debate over the desirability and feasibility of greater clarity regarding the purpose of a qualification – what should we expect a GCSE qualified student to be capable of doing?
  • Comparability – A discussion on the requirement for comparability between boards and subjects and possible trade-offs. Notably between ‘validity’ and ‘reliability’ and sense that the latter may have been over played
  • Level playing field – a conversation relating to the nature of competition in the sector both between boards and in key adjacent markets such as publishing

We will return to some of these aspects in future posts but have provided social media links to the speakers in the table below if you want to follow and engage in the debate online in the meantime.

A reason for optimism

However the key point that we thought most useful to convey at this point in time was the constructive atmosphere in which the debate was conducted. That there are challenges was clearly recognised, however as Professor Rob Coe reminded us in his opening keynote, was there ever really a ‘Golden age’?

At the conclusion of our session the panel was asked whether we were optimistic or pessimistic about the future. My spontaneous response was that we were, perhaps surprising to some, optimistic.

In Altain’s evidence to the education committee we concluded that perhaps unwittingly exams and exam boards had come to occupy ‘too much of the centre stage’.  Our observation is that since the review, far from abating the pressure of ‘jobs’ that the exam system is required to do, it has intensified significantly.

The reason for our optimism is that looking forward we can see potential for this pressure abating and crucially that we don’t have to expect the exam system to continue to shoulder so much of the burden.

Greater clarity of purpose and sharing the burden

For example, one projection is that universities and employers will be motivated to get more involved earlier in the student lifecycle, taking advantage of a wider range of options to do so. Relief potentially arises from more of a helping hand and a greater clarity and focus as to the main purposes of the exam system.

Since the seminar, of course, there has been a regime change at the heart of the education system, promising a new era of collaboration – we need to seize the opportunity to create a better system for all stakeholders, above all the students.

Your view?

Do you think that that we are heading towards a new era of collaboration? Does this provide grounds for optimism about our exam system? Please share your views in the comments section below.

Links for following and contributing to the debate online

Event: Reforming England’s examination system ‐ quality of marking, market regulation and tackling malpractice.5th June 2014

Agenda Links
Session Chair’s opening remarks:
Baroness Perry of Southwark, Vice‐Chair, All‐Party Parliamentary Group for Education http://www.educationappg.org.uk/
Restoring confidence in England’s exam system:
Professor Rob Coe, Professor, School of Education and Director, Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM),Durham University https://twitter.com/ProfCoehttps://twitter.com/CEMatDurham
The future of assessment, improving quality of marking and the appeals process:
Tim Downie, Business Development Director, RM Results https://twitter.com/RMTimDownie.https://twitter.com/RM_Results
Andrew Harland, Chief Executive, Examination Officers’ Association http://www.examofficers.org.uk/news/eoa-lastest-news
Peter Hamilton, Chair, Academic Policy Committee, HMC https://twitter.com/HMC_Org
Sarah Maughan, Director of Research, National Foundation for Educational Research https://twitter.com/TheNFER
Sylke Scheiner, Director of Standards, OCR https://twitter.com/ocrexams
Questions and comments from the floor
Relationship between publishers and awarding bodies and tackling malpractice
Andrew Freeman, Associate Publisher, Collins Learning, HarperCollins Publishers https://twitter.com/FreedomToTeach
Geoff Hurst, Managing Director, Altain Education https://twitter.com/altaineducation
Dr Harriet Jones, Director, Pre‐University Skills programme, University of East Anglia https://twitter.com/PreUSkills
Darren Northcott, National Official, Education, NASUWT https://twitter.com/DarrenN4NASUWT
Questions and comments from the floor
Competition in the exams market: pricing, quality and information:
Gareth Pierce, Chief Executive, WJEC https://twitter.com/wjec_cbac
Michael Ridge, Director, Public Policy Practice, Frontier Economics https://twitter.com/FrontierEcon
James Croft, Director, Centre for Market Reform of Education https://twitter.com/jamespdcroft
Malcolm Trobe, Deputy General Secretary, ASCL https://twitter.com/ASCL_UK
Questions and comments from the floor
England’s exams system: changes and challenges:
Glenys Stacey, Chief Regulator, Ofqual https://twitter.com/ofqual
Questions and comments from the floor



NEWS: Altain to speak at Westminster education forum event, June 5th 2014

Geoff Hurst, Managing Director, of Altain education will be presenting and contributing to a panel discussion on the future of publishing and the examination system at the Westminster education forum event this week. Information on the programme and other speakers are below. We hope to see you there!

Westminster education forum

Reforming England’s examination system (Royal College of Nursing, 20 Cavendish square, London W1GoRN). Sponsored by RM Results. The conference follows the release of the final report of Ofqual’s review into the quality of marking for GCSEs, A-levels and other qualifications

Delegates will consider proposals to improve the design of marking schemes, and on-screen and traditional marking processes, as well as the introduction of a new exam appeals system by summer 2015.Discussion is also expected to bring out latest thinking on reforms to the relationship between exam boards and publishers.The operation of a market for exams will also be examined, including the impact competition has on quality and cost of examinations.Also information available to schools and colleges when selecting between awarding bodies and other possible models for a reformed exam system.

Key notes from:

Glenys Stacey, Chief Regulator, Ofqual and Professor Rob Coe, Professor, School of Education and Director, Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM), Durham University.

Other speakers include

James Croft, Director, Centre for Market Reform of Education; Tim Downie, Business Development Director, RM Results; Andrew Freeman, Associate Publisher, Collins Learning, HarperCollins Publishers; Peter Hamilton, Headmaster, The Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, Hertfordshire and Chair, Academic Policy Committee, Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference;Andrew Harland, Chief Executive, Examination Officers’ Association; Geoff Hurst, Managing Director, Altain Education; Dr Harriet Jones, Director, Pre-University Skills programme, University of East Anglia; Sarah Maughan, Director of Research, National Foundation for Educational Research; Darren Northcott, National Official, Education, NASUWT; Gareth Pierce, Chief Executive, WJEC; Michael Ridge, Director, Public Policy Practice, Frontier Economics; Sylke Scheiner, Director of Standards, OCR and Malcolm Trobe, Deputy General Secretary, ASCL have also agreed to speak.

Baroness Perry of Southwark, Vice-Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education has kindly agreed to chair this seminar.


The growth of digital: Why students would benefit from a greater emphasis on consumer education in the new curriculumn

In Altain Education’s response to the DfE consultation on the new National Curriculum we were very supportive of the proposal to include financial education as part of Citizenship.

We do however consider that there is a need to strengthen proposals on financial education specifically, as well as to extend scope to embrace consumer education more broadly

This is on account of three observed trends:

1. The emergent “Student Consumer”phenomena: This was first talked about in relation to the rise in Higher Education tuition fees. Altain’s perspective is that choices on Education and the world of work relate to some of the the most significant financial decisions of an individuals life. Hence our view that students need to be appreciative of this situation and equipped to make informed decisions at an early stage

2. Digital transformation in education and more widely: The consumer as well as finance landscape is being transformed by new digital technologies and associated business and marketing models. This has benefits but as the OFT investigation into “In app purchases” suggests, risks also. Schools and students could be argued to be at the forefront of this change, both as a consequence of personal ownership and as a consequence of the rapid growth in use of mobile devices in teaching and learning

3. Increased Industry engagement: Industry can be seen to be increasingly engaged in the heart of education. For example development and delivery of the curriculum for computing and financial services. Altain considers this a good thing, but there are risks, such as agenda creep, that require mitigation

Hence the three areas that we suggested for strengthening in particular:

-Support for financial decisions in relation to education choices

-Support for financial self management in relation to marketing over mobile devices

-Marketing awareness in relation to brands and institutions engaged in support of education activity

As part of our submission we provided suggestions for how these proposals can be accomplished within the text of the document

We appreciate that student financial and consumer education is just part of the picture. Action is required on the part of key brands and institutions also. We need to consider the role and educational needs of other key stakeholder groups also, such as parents and teachers

However by also appreciating the bigger picture and responding to the big changes through the curriculum and beyond we can look forward students reaping the benefits early of a new competence in financial and consumer matters, generally and in relation to education specifically.

Further information is available directly from Altain Education contact: geoffhurst@altain.co.uk