Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the NISAI Group

There are two elements to gaining qualifications.

Firstly, there is the written and timed examination.

However, just as importantly, there is also coursework that needs to be written and submitted. This coursework can often contribute towards a significant percentage of the overall examination mark for a student. In addition, it is impossible for a young person to pass a qualification without completing both parts.

The Issue

Before the introduction of “controlled assessments” students undertook an exam and the coursework was marked internally with a percentage of random sample scripts being sent to the Awarding Body for verification.

In 2009, “controlled assessments” were introduced.

Controlled assessments mean that each student has to complete work under supervised conditions In addition, the work has to be completed within a specific time frame although within this, individual dates and times can be scheduled by the school This work is then marked by the school and sent to the Examination Board for verification.

If a child is within mainstream education, and perfectly healthy, then it is within the framework of both their everyday life, and that of the institution they are enrolled in to complete these controlled assessments within their school timetable.

However, there are a number of children who are not within the mainstream system who need to be considered with respect to this change.


1 in 10 children from 5 to 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder.1

Current overall absence in schools is currently 5.42%.2

The latest figures (April to June 2011) show that overall the number of NEETs has risen to 979,000, the highest second quarter figure for five years.3

These children are not able to be easily included in the current frameworks of controlled assessments. This means that there is a real possibility that they will not be able to complete the qualifications they need to be able to develop and contribute economically to society. Instead, it condemns them to being part of the ever increasing issue of NEETs. According to the Cabinet Office, the cost per NEET is £56,000. This means that the cost of NEETs has now risen from £31 billion over their lifetime,4 to £54 billion.5

If there is any chance of educating these children and them being able to access and pass qualifications, then a new resolution needs to be made.

Current Situation – The Situation Surrounding Private Candidates

Private candidates are asked to undertake all elements of controlled assessment, including writing-up sessions and research and analysis sessions. Indeed, all elements with high or medium levels of control must be undertaken within the centre, or externally with centre supervision eg a field trip. The timings of these sessions can vary but writing-up sessions can be as long as 6 hours and research and analysis sessions can be as long as 20 hours. In addition, controlled assessments have to be taken within a specified time – usually between 26 April and 3 May – and the coursework then has to be marked and sent to the Examination Board for monitoring.

However, young people that are not in mainstream education are outside the system for a reason, whether it be because of emotional or health issues. In the case of students that are outside mainstream education and studying using any number of online tools – including the Nisai Virtual Academy (, students have to register as private candidates – (currently many schools/centres will not accept private candidates due to the burden of additional marking that is placed upon their teachers) and once registered as a private candidate, students need to attend a centre (often at some distance) or arrange for home invigilation for such controlled assessments. This can be very stressful for the student as well as expensive for parents. An additional issue is that if a student is ill on the day of the controlled assessment, many schools are refusing to reschedule.

This means that restricting these young people to the stringent rules of controlled assessments can only negatively affect their prospects.

In addition, the OFQUAL website is perplexing. The information they have posted on their website includes the statement that: “Candidates who are excluded from mainstream schooling, for whatever reason, can sometimes still undertake Controlled Assessments, provided suitable arrangements for supervision, authentication etc can be made. Contact us as soon as possible.” However when contacted, OFQUAL have not only been slow in responding but negative in their support, as can be seen below.

Issues Surrounding the Ruling

General Exclusion Issues

The Nisai Group has tried to work out exactly how this can help their students to achieve their qualifications. Writing to clarify the situation, they waited 3+ months. When OFQUAL finally responded they said that the rules could not be bent in any situation.

Inevitably, this will mean that medically ill students will be excluded from the mainstream exam system, and that this ruling will only increase hardship for those students who are already suffering severe medical issues, and who have no reasonable expectation of leaving home or hospital to fulfill what could only be described as bureaucratic requirements.

Discrimatory Issues

There are serious discriminatory issues surrounding this policy decision meaning that, because a student has disabilities, they cannot be accommodated within the existing requirements.

Practical Issues

The issue is further compounded by the fact that as a private candidate, if the student does manage to get to a sympathetic school, it is often the case that the school they use to complete the controlled assessment refuses to mark the coursework if they are not a student at that school. In the case of AQA they have also said they are unwilling to mark the coursework even if the Nisai Group pay them. Finally, the Nisai Group is unable to mark the assessment either -even though they are an exam centre for EDEXCEL and JCQ. This means that though the coursework has been done, it will not be marked, forcing already disadvantaged students to fail. This means that even once private students have done the controlled assessments, there are still hoops for them to jump through.

Response of the Government to the Issues

The Government still do not have a clear picture on how many children are homeschooled or outside of mainstream education.6 In addition, it is obvious from the following answer given to David Morris MP that the Government has not made substantial assessment of the effects that this legislation has had on those children not inside mainstream education.7

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale, Conservative): To ask the Secretary of State for Education what assessment he has made of the effect of the rules on controlled assessment of GCSE courses on disabled children undertaking distance learning who experience difficulties in attending examination centres; and what estimate he has made of the number of such children there were in the latest period for which figures are available.

Nick Gibb (Minister of State (Schools), Education; Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, Conservative): Controlled assessment was introduced into GCSEs in most subjects in 2009. We are aware that it is causing significant issues for schools, colleges and students and we are working with the independent regulator, Ofqual, and with awarding organisations on what can be done to address these issues.

The Department does not collect information on the number of children with special educational needs undertaking controlled assessment as part of a GCSE examination.

What Needs to be Done

The government needs to work alongside OFQUAL to make sure that any position they put on their website is accurate as opposed to misleading. This ensures that those who are affected with exclusion issues understand their position completely as opposed to assuming there can be exclusions to the dictat. With that in mind, the wording on the website needs to be changed to read “There are NO exceptions to this requirement” so that future private candidates are not misled into thinking that “suitable arrangements” can be forthcoming. However, we would request that OFQUAL be supportive of and make allowances for those who, through no fault of their own, are unable to adhere to the system.

There should be a standard marking procedure for the work of private candidates. Controlled assessments fundamentally restrict disabled children on every level and this needs to be resolved in new frameworks for those children not within mainstream education. The government must resolve this situation in order to ensure that there are options for private students. This could include arrangements being made with examination boards that do not require controlled assessments for their exams, such as IGCSE.

November 2011


2 DfE: Statistical First Release - Pupil Absence in Schools in England, Spring Term 2011.

3 Pearson Centre For Policy and Learning – Pocket Watch: Latest NEET Statistics.




7 Hansard, HC Deb, c1258W, 24 March 2011.

Prepared 2nd July 2012