‘Hyper-accountability has broken down trust’ – lessons from 15 years at the heart of the exams system

Simon Lebus, the outgoing CEO of Cambridge Assessment, explains why politicians tinker with the exam system, how accountability has corroded trust and why exam boards are under more scrutiny than ever in Tes.

Simon Lebus has seen a lot of changes in the exam system during his 15 years as chief executive of Cambridge Assessment – the organisation that runs the OCR and Cambridge International exam boards.

On the positive side, he says politicians are more open to advice from boards when driving through educational reforms. But a more worrying development, he believes, is that “trust and cooperation” in the education sector has been broken down by the rise of high-stakes accountability, making teachers more willing to contest exam results.

Sitting in his office in Cambridge, he reflects: “What I guess is interesting, as I prepare to leave the world of exams after 15-and-a-half years, is we’ve come full circle”

When he arrived at Cambridge Assessment in 2002, a New Labour government was rolling out its ‘Curriculum 2000’ reforms, which moved A levels to a modular structure and introduced AS levels.

Now as he departs the assessment world, the wide-ranging curriculum and qualification reforms instigated when Michael Gove was education secretary are finally reaching fruition.  

“My sense is that things are somewhat now more settled,” he says. “I think all the major players in terms of Ofqual, the exam boards, and the government are keen to let that pass through the system before thinking again about doing anything.”

Lebus thinks the idea of moving to a single exam board – something Gove said he wanted to do – is “off the table at the moment”.

“You would be putting all your eggs in one basket – that would not be desirable. The process of transition would be horrendous, and it’s not clear to me that any government would really have the appetite to expose themselves to that.”

 Read the full article ‘Hyper-accountability has broken down trust’ – lessons from 15 years at the heart of the exams system

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