Multiple exam boards ‘watering down’ school standards

The Telegraph is reporting calls from the chief inspector of schools for exam boards to be banned from competing for business because of the “real danger” of standards being watered down.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, warned that there were serious concerns about whether the exam system was robust and said that the situation needed to be carefully monitored. 

One of his biggest concerns is that as multiple exam boards fight to be chosen by schools they could be tempted to make their tests easier to help pupils get better grades. 

Sir Michael, a former headteacher of one of the country’s most successful state schools, said that there should be one exam board per subject to safeguard standards and ensure that all children are tested equally. 

Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Sir Michael said: 

“…The big issue now is should we have competing boards? My personal view is that there is a real danger of examination boards watering down standards.” 

He called for the “dividing up [of exam boards] between different subjects, so there’s one examination board for maths, and one examination board for English.” 

“…There were concerns this year,” Sir Michael added. “I think you know the Government has got concerns about it, and I think you know we’re going to have to monitor this very carefully. Ofqual, as the regulator, have got to make recommendations to government members on this one. 

“I speak not just as chief inspector but as an ex-head teacher. I always wondered why we had so many examination boards for individual subjects…” 

Ofqual, the exams regulator, refused to comment.

More at: Multiple exam boards ‘watering down’ school standards


Is Sir Michael right to be concerned over the impact of multiple exam boards competing in the same subjects? Is there a real risk it results in lower standards?

What about his idea – not a new one – that there should be one board per subject? Would they be a good compromise between the current situation and moving to a situation where we only have one board?

Please let us know what you think in the comments or via Twitter…


Would it be better if we had one exam board per subject?


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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove One could suggest that Sir Michael Wilshaw gets his own house in order before trying to knock other people’s into shape.

  2. jwscattergood

    ian_bec SchoolsImprove I wonder why anyone teaches when all we read are attacks on standards. Does this man say anything positive?

  3. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove With regard maths papers the question styles of the different boards is very different; the maths is the same in all

  4. ian_bec

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove Wales has moved to a single board, but by accident rather than by design. More ministerial power as result.

  5. andylutwyche

    ian_bec SchoolsImprove That would be my main worry: single exam board = increased political influence; not desirable at all

  6. SchoolsImprove

    ian_bec andylutwyche A single board has been suggested here too, but this idea from SMW is to keep boards but have just one per subject

  7. andylutwyche

    ian_bec SchoolsImprove Quite – I personally find one exam board’s question style poor and less accessible than the others in maths

  8. ian_bec

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove find the same in history. But it is a good to preserve as wide a range of content choice as possible.

  9. ian_bec

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove find the same in history. But it is a good to preserve as wide a range of content choice as possible.

  10. Stevius

    Sir Michael is quite correct in his argument that having a market system for examination boards has had an effect on standards – it can be shown quantitatively, not just anecdotally, that grade C and grade A passes are easier in some examination boards for the same subject. This happens for many different subjects and it is also not the case that a particular examination board is responsible for the easiest grade.

    The issue Sir Michael brings up has also been responsible for delays in the accreditation process for the new GCSE specifications where draft assessments have been sent back to the boards as they have been considered as not meeting the academic demand of the new qualification and would give that board a significant advantage in the GCSE market.

    My own view is that there should be one national examination board responsible for setting the examination with a view to publishing different pathways. For example, a concept approach alongside a context alternative, much like those which exist in science courses at present. If this means that the existing boards have to share out the subjects e.g. Maths to Edexcel/Pearson, Science to AQA, Languages to OCR e.t.c. then so be it.

    I also find some of the comments on this thread regarding Ofsted ridiculous and unnecessary.

  11. wasateacher

    If Ofsted inspections are now going to be inhouse, rather than contracted out to private companies, perhaps the same should happen to exam boards.  When there is no profit motive, perhaps we can achieve some sort of stability in the process.  At the moment, it is almost impossible to keep up to date and there is almost no comparison with an exam grade of 10 years ago and one of this year, together with what has actually be tested.

  12. peterabarnard

    SchoolsImprove Yep, Mike we need one only. This will ensure complete command and control…that’s what we need as a country…NOT!

  13. JaneCo94

    SchoolsImprove Multiple exam boards in the GCE/CSE years – standards were high then so that’s not the problem. Likely market forces/profits

  14. ddubdrahcir

    SchoolsImprove Government sees competition as the gold standard, driving constant improvement. Perhaps not?! Monopolies may be no better…

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