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



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