Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by The Royal Grammar School, Guildford

Multiple Awarding Bodies

1. Advantage—Choice. A key advantage of multiple boards is that schools can choose the syllabus which is best for its pupils. At GCSE and IGCSE, the existence of a range of bodies has tended towards diversity of provision in terms of coursework or controlled assessment components, and the relative weighting of these components where they are present. The concern is that concerns of cost and simplicity/uniformity would prevail over the current plurality, and over time a one-size-which-doesn’t-really-fit-all model will be imposed from above.

2. Advantage—Innovation. It is possible to argue that the existence of several awarding bodies is needed to encourage innovation. In science the Nuffield “revolution” may not have got off the ground if there had been a single body, and science teaching would therefore have been impoverished. The development of the Pre-U is a further example of the importance of a landscape responsive to innovation.

3. Disadvantage—Market- or actuarial- driven examining and outcomes. Here we refer you to HMC’s investigation of this question in relation to the award of A* in Autumn 2010. The significantly number of A*s awarded by differing exam boards can be interpreted in many ways, some favourable to pupils, some not; the point is that there is uncertainty about the transparency of the award of this crucial grade. Having said this, I am not confident that the existence of a single exam board would by its simple existence solve this problem.

4. Disadvantage—lack of accountability of exam boards. Yes, exam boards are regulated by Ofqual, and yes, it could be argued that the existence of a market/competition acts as a regulator, but the experience of schools is that exam boards hold themselves to account and the only grounds for appeal are against the guidelines that the board issues for itself. Every year there is a serious problem with at least one subject’s examining. Sometimes the exam board rectifies it, sometimes not. Should you wish me to give greater details of this, I would be happy to do so; I have a file of such cases.

Again, would the existence of a single awarding body solve this problem?

5. Disadvantage—variable quality of examining. The need to keep costs down in a marketplace has resulted in poor pay for examiners, and on occasion Undergraduates/those who do not know the syllabus well have been recruited to mark scripts. Quality control is a problem. Moving exam boards takes time, and the impact of inaccurate marking at A2 in particular can be catastrophic.

6. If there were a single awarding body, what would be the fate of the IB?

The Commercial Activities of Exam Boards

7. There is a difficulty with examinations having a single endorsed publisher deals for the recommended coursebook. It works well if the book is good but there have been occasions where this was not the case; it is as brave department which ignore the book in these circumstances. For example, there are several chemistry texts “endorsed” by Edexcel (one written by their own chair of examiners) and one which is their “official one”.

Some teachers feel that text books are written too quickly and even the official ones contain a large number of errors and typos. Too many of the endorsed textbooks are basic and encourage the impression that candidates need only read one book to get through their exams. Or worse, that wide reading is dangerous in that it might lead to the writing of ideas which will be penalised.

For Edexcel Politics, by contrast, the principal examiner has produced a high-quality book. It does not have the exam board logo on the front, but it does not need to: everyone who teaches the paper knows that what he thinks fundamentally shapes the specification. This is a crude commercial way of setting the standard, but it does discourage a pluralistic approach to the subject, and can even make pupils wary of reading around the subject

The Cost of Exams

8. Scrapping AS at the end of Year 12 might make the system cheaper and less unwieldy.

November 2011

Prepared 2nd July 2012