A week is a long time in education

The last few weeks have seen some important developments in the world of qualifications. We have had an announcement on the reform of GCSEs, and a High Court judge has ruled on the GCSE English case – finding that, in difficult circumstances, we 'grasped the nettle in a cogent and rational' way.

I know how disappointed some teachers and students will be with the judgement. The Court found that the GCSE English qualification itself was the culprit. Its poor design led to some unfairness as between one student and another. Once that unfairness was apparent in the summer, however we chose to resolve it created unfairness for one group of students or another. When we looked at the detail we found the fairest thing to do was to provide the opportunity to resit. That was an extremely difficult decision. The Court concluded that Ofqual made the right decisions and could not have been more fair. Nevertheless, the experience has been painful for all involved. Wednesday's judgement will, I hope, help to draw a line under those difficult decisions and allow the focus to move towards creating better qualifications for young people.

These are defining moments in the development of school qualifications in England. It seems to me that we have turned a page and now have the opportunity to write a whole new chapter. We can define the qualifications of the future, qualifications that are worthwhile to study and stimulating to teach. They must be reliable. They must help students prepare for their next steps. They should accurately assess the real achievement of each student – that is what people expect, and it is our job to make sure that the new qualifications do that. To do that, we will involve others and build the consensus for change. That is what we set out to do. The best qualifications can only be developed and delivered by exam boards drawing on the experience of assessment experts, teachers, universities and employers. We will work with and listen to each of these groups and find ways to allow them to contribute to the new qualifications. It is vital that we support and challenge each other in equal measure.

I have a clear vision for the new chapter on qualification reform that we will help write.

Firstly, these new qualifications will draw on best assessment practice, here and across the world. The balance between teaching time and exams or assessment needs to be struck well, and we will look again at the value of controlled assessment in each subject. We will consider again the predictability of assessment. Assessment should be well understood, subject by subject but it should not be so predictable that it risks constraining teaching and learning. We are fortunate to be able to draw on many of the world's experts in assessment, in our exam boards and universities.

Secondly, we must be clear at the outset of the standard to be set, and about how it is to be set and to be maintained. We know from our experience in GCSE English that we have much to do to make sure that standard setting is clearly understood, and accepted.

Thirdly, qualifications do not exist in isolation. They are taught in schools, and the way schools are measured and held to account can distort the way students are taught. Rather than being in conflict, qualifications and the way schools are measured need to sit well together and not pull in opposite directions. The Government has just launched a consultation on school accountability measures, and so we have a real opportunity to look fairly and squarely at the relationship between qualifications and school accountability and to get it right.

This new chapter can be filled with real opportunities. Students in this country deserve qualifications that build on the best of what we already have, and that stand alongside the best in the world. I hope that all those who have a stake in qualifications – and that really means all those who care about education – will recognise this opportunity, and will work with us to deliver long-lasting and meaningful reform.

Glenys Stacey
Chief Regulator


  1. A teacher

    When will you report back on controlled assessment? In MFL, we have seen that this type of assessment is open to abuse. Also it carries 60 percent of the final mark. Therefore students gained excellent grades in controlled assessment. However this is quite often not replicated in the external exams. Why don't the exam boards deal with this obvious gaming of the system. I really hope you bring back written exams for the next cohort of KS4 students. As you have discovered the system needs to be strenghened now.

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    • Glenys Stacey

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I do appreciate your honesty and your willingness to raise these difficult issues.

      We know from our research that controlled assessment in Modern Foreign Languages has not been popular. Teachers tell us it encourages rote learning and it takes up too much teaching time. Of course, there had been problems in the past with coursework in MFL - and, as you so rightly say, we have now discovered that the system needs to be strengthened.

      You are clear that MFL controlled assessment is open to abuse, and you question the correlation between student results in controlled assessments and written examination. We are interested in that as well. The correlation, subject by subject is one thing. What we can read into it is another thing, isn't it?

      Over the last year we have reviewed controlled assessment, subject by subject. We plan to report the results in the summer term. Our report will consider the reasons why controlled assessment was introduced. It will also consider how controlled assessment has played out in practice - how it works in schools, what effect it has on teaching and learning, whether it assesses the skills it is supposed to, for example. Our report will be clear about where we believe teacher assessment should be used.

      One thing is clear now: if we continue with controlled assessment as a part of the whole assessment in any subject, then we have to accept that we cannot make it 'foolproof'. There is a trade off, as in so many aspects of assessment. But we can strengthen it.

      Exam boards do have a part to play to put in place appropriate moderation arrangements. But it is just that-moderation. It cannot guarantee the full integrity of the assessment.

      So it is an important question: where does the value of controlled assessment, with the best controls we can design, outweigh the risks?

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  2. A Teacher

    Dear Ms Stacey,

    First of all, I am very surprised that my message was read and replied to. Thank you for this.

    As a teacher, I deal with young individuals who are not being given a fair deal. I think that my students will be penalised by me because I am unwilling to game the controlled assessments. No matter how hard they and I work, we will never be able to compete with centres which allow/ignore abuses of the system. For instance, are you aware that one does n’t have to make a recording of all speaking assessments? One could simply pluck a number out of the air! Unfortunately, myself and many others suspect this is happening.

    I am disappointed with the pace of change. You say that you will comment on controlled assessments in the summer term. Will this be at the beginning or the end of it?

    My wish list for teaching my KS4 students in September 2013 are;

    Listening and reading to count for 50% of the final mark. Instead of 40%

    Controlled assessments in writing can be no higher than 10% of the reading mark in the terminal exam. One cannot be a very competent writer of a foreign language but have weak reading skills.
    Furthermore, it would be pointless submitting an average student with an A* because he won’t get achieve that grade in the terminal exam. This will make centres more cautious about the “help” they are giving.

    Equally, the same goes for speaking. One cannot communicate orally well without having developed it from listening to others in the target language. Therefore, the speaking scores cannot be assessed higher than 10% of the listening exam.

    Please don’t forget I deal with teenagers in tears who are very stressed because they think they have failed. When in actually fact, as you know very well yourself, it is the system which is not able to assess real success. Finally, we are losing potentially very good linguists because of it. For that reason something needs to be done for next cohort of KS4 students. I look forward to your reply and can you indicate if there will be any changes for the teaching of GCSE MFL for students starting their courses in September 2013 especially with regards to controlled assessments?

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