Coalition plans to overhaul the examinations system may “damage the quality” of secondary school education, the official qualifications watchdog has warned. This is from the Telegraph…
Ofqual said that proposals to scrap GCSEs in favour of new-style English Baccalaureate Certificates were unrealistic and risked creating a repeat of the grading fiasco that dogged English exams this summer.
It was also claimed that any move to axe competition between exam boards – a central thrust of the reforms – would rob the education system of valuable subject expertise and have a serious knock-on effect on A-levels.
The comments – in a letter sent to the Department for Education last month – represent a serious blow to Michael Gove’s plans to replace GCSEs with new exams within the next three years.
Release of the letter followed an angry exchange between the Education Secretary and MPs on the Commons Education Select Committee.
In an appearance before the cross-party committee, he refused to disclose the contents of the memo, insisting it was the regulator’s responsibility to voice its own concerns.But the stance was branded “unacceptable” by Graham Stuart, the Committee’s Conservative chairman.
Labour seized on the disclosure of the letter insisting that the “reliability of exams” would be damaged by the move.
Under plans, new EBC qualifications will be offered in the core academic subjects of English, maths, science, foreign languages, history and geography by 2015.
The courses will no longer split pupils into upper and lower tiers depending on their ability and courses will be assessed almost entirely through end-of-year tests.
EBCs will also feature longer, more open-ended questions and it was announced that each subject will be provided by just one exam board to prevent organisations competing to offer the same qualification – creating an inevitable “race to the bottom”.
But in a two-page letter, Ofqual raised a series of major concerns over the reform package.
Principally, it claimed that the system “may exceed what is realistically achievable through a single assessment”.
No qualification system has ever been devised to be hold schools fully to account while being completely immune from pressures of league tables and enabling standards to be maintained from year-to-year, it was claimed.
It was also difficult to abolish tiered papers and – at the same time – create an exam that can be passed by all pupils, Ofqual said.
In further comments, Glenys Stacey, the chief regular, said:
• Major changes to the exams system risked a repeat of this summer’s GCSE grading fiasco when reforms to course specifications led to major uncertainty in schools;
• A greater reliance on more unstructured, essay-style questions would make the new qualifications “significantly less reliable” by making it difficult for examiners to mark papers – in turn making them “less suitable” as a system to hold schools to account;
• Scrapping competition between exam boards would lead to a loss of vital “subject expertise” at those organisations that fail to win the contract to run particular subjects.