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.