Exam thoughts

Some very quick thoughts on new exams for 16 year olds

  1. All exam systems need a refresh every so often. When a new qualification is created it exists within a set of parameters. Eventually, if schools are doing all the right things, the ability of the students the qualification is meant for will expand beyond those parameters. It is also the case that the content requirements of any qualification will change over time, needing to meet changing societal needs. These are also likely to take the qualification outside its original parameters. The consequence is that the qualification will need either a re-fresh or a total change.
  2. Change for the GCSE is probably overdue.
  3. Such changes are generational events (or should be) and so require careful thought and need input from a wide variety of sources. Not just the educational establishment, but from industry and wider society. And, yes, from politicians too.
  4. Changing the structure of exams and assessments will not prevent any perceived gaming in the system. It is school accountability measures that lead to gaming, not the exams themselves. Any gaming that has occurred has been for the benefit of schools and not for the students. There is no such thing as the “un-game-able” system.
  5. One three hour exam at the end of a course is not good assessment practice. Not anywhere near.
  6. That is not to say that terminal exams are not better than modular. Just needs a bit more thought than “one three hour exam”.
  7. More rigour at the assessment end (ie longer essays, more detailed maths, science questions) requires more markers with greater expertise than we have now. This will cost more, and as the G4S farce showed, need to be properly planned for. Leaving this in the hands of exam boards is asking for trouble.
  8. Some reports today suggest that the norm-referenced, criterion-referenced question will be left to exam boards to decide in their tenders for exams. This is not appropriate. If the government wants norm-referenced exams let them have the balls to say so and argue for it openly. This bit of the plan (leaked, as yet) sounds like a political kick into the long grass.
  9. A proper consultation across the profession is essential. The law of unintended consequences looms here heavily.
  10. The time-scale proposed looks achievable, but again does have the stink of politics about it.

That’s all.