Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Centre for Market Reform in Education

1.1 Introduction

The purpose of this memorandum is to bring to the Select Committee’s attention a research project commencing this month considering the case for structural reform of the 14-19 examinations system. This briefing contains an executive summary of the research, a chapter outline of the content proposed, some of the literature that will provide the starting point for the study, and details of the intended outputs and timeframe for the study. It is the Centre’s intention to publish an initial discussion paper in February 2012 addressing the purpose of 14 to 19 qualifications and unpacking the terms of the standards debate, though the final monograph is not likely to emerge before the end of the year. Those undertaking the research (myself and another to be appointed) will be available to give oral evidence to the Committee as required.

1.2 Executive Summary

This paper will seek to clarify the core purposes of examinations at the 14-19 stage and whether increasing government influence over the system has not undermined public confidence in it by 1) emphasising learners’ needs in assessment at the expense of end-users; and 2) through the increasing use of assessment data to support conclusions about school quality that go beyond the inferences that the tests are designed to support (ie about pupils’ attainments). It tests the thesis that government interventions to improve school performance and educational opportunity (which generate a political pressure of their own to demonstrate equality of outcome) have opened up a rift between the producers of 14-19 examinations and their end-users, resulting in a de-valuation in the currency of qualifications at this level. So long as government determines the content of the curriculum and the means and objectives of assessment, the benefits that might ensue from having several exam boards are limited. A fully de-regulated system, extending boards’ powers as far as curriculum design, brings the added benefits of specialisation, competition and market contestability.

1.3 Research Outline

1. The purposes of assessment: who and what are qualifications for?

2. Public qualifications: the theory:

(a)the case for regulation – regulation as the means by which public confidence in exams is assured (whether concern is chiefly standards or equality of educational opportunity); including an international survey of different systems

(b)the role of exam boards – understanding the success of the Finnish system (based on a single Matriculation Examination Board), and that of Singapore (the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB), which is moving towards greater regulatory control/centralisation; contrasted with drivers of system devolution in Germany

3. How do you guarantee standards if there is no independent arbiter/market? What do we mean by “standards”? How would you know if they are in decline?

4. Consumer pressure on standards: the impact of greater transparency, accessibility and guidance from exam boards in assessment delivery

5. Private qualifications: an alternative framework:

(a)the importance of competition and market contestability : some economic theory on how competing brands provide quality assurance and have an inherent resistance to pressure from consumers to compromise on standards.

(b)how the politics of government intervention upsets the balance between the awarding body’s interest in rigorous evaluation (safeguarding its reputation, ensuring its judgements are respected) and the importance of the verdict for those being evaluated; case study on the credit rating agencies and comparison with exam boards:

Thesis: governments’ interventions to ensure equality of educational opportunity (measured in terms of equality of outcome) have contributed to a de-valuation in the currency of 14-19 academic qualifications and undermined the confidence of employers and universities.

6. The history of independent qualifications in the UK – specifically the RSA, City and Guilds, professional qualifications, O and A level boards. How widely used they were, how they maintained their reputations (in the case of O and A boards, through the influence of universities), how (especially in the case of City and Guilds) they lost their independence, and what the consequences have been.

7. The history of regulation in the UK. How increasing govt control over the aims and content of the curriculum, and how it should be taught, correlates with increased govt control over exam boards (QCA, QCDA, development of QCF/equivalence) and growth of the apparatus of accountability (use of targets, league tables, exam outcome-focused inspection). The need for govts to be shown to be making a difference.

8. A look at some international examples of robust private qualifications that have maintained their integrity and currency and an examination of the principles that have enabled them to do so: self-regulation, brand, professional associations and market contestability

9. Consideration of objections: are market mechanisms enough for maintaining credible standards?

10. Towards system devolution – proposals for de-regulation of UK exams market.

1.4 Initial Literature Survey

Archer, M S (1979) Social origins of Examination Systems (Sage London).

Bassett, D, Cawston, T., Thraves, L. and Truss, E. (2009) A new level (Reform).

Bassett, D, Haldenby, A and Tryl, L (2009) Core business (Reform).

Boyle, A (2008) The regulation of examinations and qualifications: An international study (Ofqual).

Broadfoot P M (1996) Education, Assessment and Society (OUP Buckingham).

Cambridge Assessment (2010) Exam Standards: the big debate (Cambridge Assessment).

Montgomery, R (1965) Examinations: An Account of their Evolution as Administrative Devices in England (London: Longmans, Green & Co).

Newton, P (2007) “Clarifying the purposes of educational assessment” in Assessment in Education, Vol. 14, No. 2, July 2007, pp. 149–170.

Steinberg, B (2002) “Examination boards: regulatory overkill or pattern for the future?”, Economic Affairs (March).

1.5 Proposed Output

1. An IEA discussion paper (web-based) (subject to IEA review process).

2. A paper in Economic Affairs and/or other journal (print) (subject to University of Buckingham review process).

3. An IEA Monograph (print) (subject to IEA review process).

1.6 Timetable

02/2012 IEA discussion paper.

03/2012 paper in Economic Affairs and/or other journal.

06/2012 draft for review.

12/2012 publication.

November 2011

Prepared 2nd July 2012