Memorandum submitted by Association of
School and College Leaders (ASCL)
A. THE PRESENT
Assessment in Britain requires a radical review
1. In England, young people take externally
set and marked examinations at the ages of 7, 11, 14, 16, 17 and
18. The system is at breaking point as more and more examinations
have been added to an already over-examined system. The total
number of examination papers sat by young people in schools and
colleges each year in national curriculum tests at 7, 11 and 14,
GCSE examinations, GNVQs, AS and A2 examinations and key skills
tests is over 30 million. No other country has so many examinations,
taking place so frequently in the life of a young person. Whilst
Wales and Scotland are in a slightly better position than England,
their examination and assessment systems are also heavily over
2. The ASCL paper Examinations and Assessment
(SHA, 2002), stated:
We do not argue against assessment. Far from
it. High quality assessment is an important part of good teaching.
[But] the purposes of assessment have become confused. This has
happened largely because external examinations have assumed too
much importance in the system. Examinations have become the master
of education, not the servant.
3. The Tomlinson report, published in 2005,
recognised the problem of too many examinations and advocated
greater reliance on in-course assessment by teachers, recommending
the use of chartered assessors, as proposed by ASCL [SHA] since
2002. The Daugherty report on assessment in Wales also advocated
a reduction in assessment and the Wales Assembly Government has
put this into place, although the replacement system is proving
4. The current problems on assessment may
be summarised as follows:
Young people are subjected to far
too many external examinations. These take place more frequently
than in other countries. The relentless pressure of external examinations
can interfere with the enjoyment young people take in learning,
can lead to excessive levels of stress, and in extreme cases to
mental health problems.
Schools and colleges spend too much
valuable curriculum time in directly preparing for, and conducting,
The purpose of external examinations
is confused between diagnostic, summative and qualification (for
the examinee), component of performance management (for the teacher),
accountability (for the school) and indicator of national achievement
(for the nation).
The examination system is very costly
(see paragraphs 5-12 below).
The complexity of the examination
system has led to concerns about the accuracy and consistency
of marking and results, with increasing numbers of re-marks being
sought at GCSE, AS and A levels.
It is becoming very difficult to
find sufficiently qualified and experienced staff to be the markers,
moderators and examiners of the external examination system. As
a result, some papers are being marked abroad.
There is a lack of trust in the professional
ability of teachers to carry out rigorous internal assessment.
5. The cost of external examinations is
excessive and uses too high a proportion of school and college
budgets. The cost comprises three elements:
Administration time (carried out
by support staff since September 2003).
Invigilation (carried out by support
staff since September 2005).
6. The PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report
on examination costs, commissioned by QCA in 2003, published in
2005 a figure of £610 million as the cost of the examination
system. ASCL has carried out its own surveys from time to time
and our figures suggest that the cost is at least that figure.
The costs are broadly consistent between institutions of comparable
THE COST OF THE ENGLISH EXAMINATION SYSTEM
| ||Direct Costs
|QCA Core costs||8
|QCA NCT costs||37
|Awarding body costs||264
|Exam CentresSupport & Sundries
|Exam CentresExams Officers||
|Total costs (£m)||370
7. Since the PwC survey costs have risen further. ASCL
does not have aggregated figures (though these may be available
from the DfES) but it is clear from a small sample of schools
and colleges that the direct cost to institutions has increased.
Some examples are:
8. An average sized sixth form college in the West Midlands
with roughly 1300 full time students spends £300,000 on examination
fees, invigilation, and administrative staff employed solely for
examinations work. In larger sixth form colleges, the cost of
external examinations is now well in excess of £400,000often
the second highest item on the college budget after staffing.
9. A large tertiary FE college in the North West has
an annual expenditure for examination fees alone of approximately
£650,000, and employs three dedicated staff at a cost of
£75,000. The principal estimates that about 4% of the college
annual budget of £20million goes on external assessment.
10. In a 1,500-pupil comprehensive school with a sixth
form in Wales, the cost of examination fees is approximately £100,000.
The cost of administration of the external examinations is over
£17,000, and the cost of support staff for invigilation is
approximately £13,000. A total of £130,000.
11. The cost of examination fees in a typical 11-16 school
of 960 students in the Home Counties is £60,000.
12. None of these figures includes the opportunity cost
of the time of staff whose main responsibilities lie elsewhere,
though teachers, heads of department, and senior leaders all devote
a proportion of their time to setting up, supervising and analysing
external examinations, and supporting students through them.
B. TESTS, EXAMINATIONS
13. The purpose of tests and examinations has become
confused with school accountability and the performance management
of teachers. The same assessments are used for the following purposes:
They are also used for:
a component of the qualifications structure;
teachers' performance-related pay;
performance management of teachers;
school and college performance tables;
accountability of schools, colleges, local authorities,
the Learning and Skills Council and the DfES; and
meeting national targets.
14. Of the last group of seven purposes, five are evaluative,
demonstrating how the Government has skewed the assessment system
from its prime purposes of diagnostic and formative towards the
evaluative. The assessment of the work of young people has become
primarily for the accountability of schools and colleges, rather
than to be of value to the students themselves.
15. The use of assessment for learning has improved the
quality and extent of formative assessment, encouraging students
to think more about their own learning and helping teachers to
mould their teaching style more effectively to the needs of the
students. Assessment for learning has become an important element
in student voice, in that it provides students with a structure
in which to feed back to their teachers information on the effectiveness
of their learning. It is therefore a major contributor to personalising
16. Teachers have been criticised for teaching to the
test but, if the system is geared to constantly monitoring progress
and judging teachers and institutions by outcomes, it is hardly
surprising that the focus is on ensuring that students produce
the best results. Particularly at Key Stage 2, this results in
over-preparation for the tests in May of year 6, followed by a
period with much less emphasis on the tested subjects. By September,
when the children enter year 7, they have had four months of this
post-test phasehardly the best preparation for the start
of secondary education. Many secondary school leaders believe
that this is a major contributory factor in the so-called Key
Stage 3 dip in performance.
17. Intelligent accountability for schools and colleges
is not helped by the use of test scores to produce league tables,
nor by the way in which the Government is trying to produce a
single measure of accountabilitythe contextualized value
added measureas a precise indicator of the effectiveness
of a complex institution such as a school or college. Schools
and colleges expect to be held to account for their performance,
but measures should not claim greater rigour than they can stand
and confidence intervals should always be included.
18. By producing league tables of performance at age
14 and by using Key Stage 3 test results as an indicator for Ofsted
inspections, the importance of Key Stage 3 tests is magnified
unnecessarily. The critical test results in secondary education
are at age 16 and 18no employer or university has ever
asked an applicant what they scored in Key Stage 3 tests. A check
on the progress of 14 year olds in the major subjects is necessary
for schools' planning and self-evaluation, but this could be achieved
without the use of an elaborate series of external tests.
19. In a 14 to 19 qualifications system, the importance
of GCSE at age 16 will also be played down from the huge external
examination industry that it has become. In its early papers on
14 to 19, the Government itself described the future role of the
GCSE as a progress check and we agree with this as the 14 to 19
20. Nobody criticises A level teachers for teaching to
the test, because the test is widely respected and the syllabus
provides an excellent education for the students following it.
Schools want to focus on developing deep and sustained learning
with assessment systems supporting that process and this is possible
at A level.
21. ASCL does not support the introduction of the A*
grade at A level, believing that there is adequate information
available to highly selective universities to distinguish between
the best candidates on the basis of their module grades, their
raw marks and their wider achievements, information on all of
which is available to admissions tutors.
22. The progress of the education system as a whole could
be monitored more efficiently and effectively. The aggregation
of individual test scores creates a high-stakes testing system
in which the pressure is bound to create a false picture of progress.
National curriculum testing should not therefore be used to monitor
progress towards the achievement of national targets. Instead,
random sampling tests should be carried out by a new body, similar
to the former Assessment of Performance Unit (APU). Monitoring
of progress should be by national sampling, not by national saturation,
as we have at present.
C. CHARTERED ASSESSORS:
23. At all levels of external assessment, greater trust
should be placed in the professionalism of teachers who have,
in recent years, become more rigorous and skilful at assessment.
Internal summative assessment should play a greater part in the
24. National curriculum tests at 11 and 14, GCSE, AS
and A level examinations should rely more on in-course assessment
through the professional judgement of teachers.
25. A problem with relying more on internal assessment
by teachers is that there is a lack of public trust in the professional
ability of teachers to carry out such assessment rigorously. A
change in the balance between external and internal assessment
must take place in a way that maintains public confidence in the
26. ASCL has proposed the establishment of a cohort of
chartered assessors, a system of in-course assessment that will
produce no loss of rigour in examining and will thus secure public
confidence. Chartered assessors will be experienced teachers,
externally accredited to carry out in-course assessment to external
standards. The chartered assessors will be responsible for carrying
out or overseeing rigorous in-course assessment that will form
a substantial proportion of externally awarded qualifications.
It will be the responsibility of the chartered examiner to mark
and grade work at the standard of the external qualification to
which it contributes.
27. Chartered assessors would develop expertise in formative
assessment and assessment for learning, as well as understanding
and enforcing rigorous standards in tests leading to the award
of qualifications. Assessors from one school might also support
another school where colleagues were inexperienced in assessment
or where there were problems in teacher recruitment and retention.
28. ASCL proposals for chartered assessors are being
taken forward by the Institute of Educational Assessors (IEA)
and the use of chartered assessors is envisaged in the current
development of 14-19 diplomas.
29. Precedents exist for the role of chartered assessors,
both in the qualifications for teachers who assess vocational
courses, and in the accreditation awarded to modern languages
teachers to carry out A level and GCSE speaking tests. Teachers
apply for accreditation and undergo training before they carry
out oral examinations or in-course assessment to external standards.
30. In-course assessment, if carried out rigorously and
to external standards, gives a truer picture of a student's standard
of attainment than an external examination taken on a particular
day. A combination of externally set tests and internally set
work would form the basis for the assessment.
31. One way in which chartered assessors could be deployed
has been described by the chief executive of the Qualifications
and Curriculum Authority (QCA). In a speech in May 2006, Dr Ken
Boston stated, "no
other country devotes as much time and expertise to developing
measures of student progress". He went on to outline
ways in which the system could be re-balanced to rely less on
external testing without sacrificing rigour in the assessment
"If teacher assessment were taken to mean that teachers
should set their own tests, and decide on that basis whether a
child is, say, a Level 4 in KS2 English or a C in GCSE Maths,
then I personally would reject such a propositionnot because
of any lack of faith in the professionalism of teachers, but because
of the impossibility of being able to strike a common standard
nationally across all the classrooms in this country.
"If teacher assessment meant, however, that teachers
in primary schools and in the early years of secondary education
had access to a national bank of standard-referenced tests and
examinations which had been trialled and piloted by test developers
and awarding bodies under QCA regulation; that the tests and examinations
were administered within a specific window of time; that the papers
were marked using a mark scheme on which teachers had been trained;
that their marks were externally and independently audited by
chartered assessors belonging to the Institute of Educational
Assessors; and that the system for doing so was demonstrably as
rigorous and robust as the current system in maintaining standards
nationally and producing valid and reliable data on national performancethen
it might well be a better process than the current one, and something
which the QCA could recommend to Government".
32. ASCL strongly supports the approach being recommended
by Dr Boston. Furthermore ASCL believes that unless there is recognition
of the role that chartered assessors can play, the delivery of
the proposed 14 to 19 qualifications framework will not be viable.
33. The proposal to create chartered assessors will raise
the status of teachers and of in-course assessment in schools
and colleges. It will improve the quality of school- and college-based
assessment and thus contribute to the raising of standards in
schools and colleges. It will provide a new step on the continuum
of professional development for teachers. It will provide important
professional development opportunities for aspiring classroom
teachers. It will make just-in-time testing more viable and reduce
the length of the examination period each summer. Above all, it
will make the examinations system more manageable whilst retaining
the credibility and standards of the external examination system.
D. PROGRESS MEASURES
34. The use of pupil progress measures, as proposed by
the Secretary of State in 2007, is in principle a move in the
right direction of intelligent accountability for schools. Good
teachers measure the performance of individual pupils on progress
made and it is right that the same principle should be used to
measure the performance of schools. However, the proposals as
set out in the consultation paper will not have the desired effect.
There are several specific aspects about which ASCL has major
concerns. The response of ASCL to the consultation is appended
at Annex A, which includes an alternative proposal from ASCL for
the operation of the progress measure so that it acts as an incentive
to schools to raise the achievement of all pupils and not just
the group of pupils defined by the threshold measure in the consultation
E. KEY STAGE
35. ASCL strongly supports the Key Stage 3 review proposals
from the QCA, but believes that the purposes of the review in
re-thinking and broadening the curriculum may be threatened by
the continuing narrowness of the Key Stage 3 tests.
36. The assessment systems of the proposed diplomas are
as yet not fully defined. Experience of previous attempts to introduce
quasi-vocational qualifications, for example GNVQ, lead ASCL members
to be concerned that the assessment of the diplomas may be too
much like those of GCSE and A level. Effective vocationally-oriented
courses cannot be assessed in the same way as academic courses.
Much of their purpose and value is lost if they are forced to
be so assessed. The diplomas should be different from GCSE and
A levels and their assessment should fit the purposes of the qualification,
not a pre-determined single view of external testing. Parts of
a diploma course, such as functional skills, may be most appropriately
tested by external tests (quite likely using ICT). But most other
aspects should rely on teacher assessment, using chartered assessors
as outlined above.
G. SYSTEMIC REFORM
37. ASCL welcomes the effect of the workforce reform
agreement in transferring examination invigilation from teachers
to support staff. This is having a beneficial effect in reducing
the burdens on teachers.
38. ASCL also welcomes the modernization agenda being
carried out by the National Assessment Authority (NAA), which
is seeking to streamline the work of the examinations office and
reduce the bureaucratic burden in that area.
H. UNIVERSITY ENTRANCE
39. ASCL is concerned at the proliferation of university
entrance tests. It is extremely difficult, especially for maintained
schools and colleges, to prepare students for the many tests that
now exist and thus we believe that these tests discriminate against
some students and act against the policy of widening participation
in higher education.
Speech by Ken Boston at the launch of the Institute of Educational
Assessors, 9 May 2006. Back